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California Assembly advances bill to make tech platforms pay for journalism

By Nicole Nixon - CapRadio


Newsrooms could see new money from the social media platforms that use and benefit from their content under a bill approved by the California Assembly on Thursday.


Industry revenues have fallen as news consumption shifts primarily to social media and other online platforms. AB 886, known as the California Journalism Preservation Act, would require large social media companies to pay a monthly “journalism usage fee” to outlets.


At least 70% of those funds would have to be spent on journalists and support staff. The fee would be determined for individual outlets through an arbitration process.


Assembly member Buffy Wicks (D—Oakland), the bill’s author, said more than 100 California newspapers have folded over the past decade due to declining advertising revenue.


She argued the legislation, which is modeled after policies in Australia and Canada, would provide a “lifeline” to smaller local news outlets.


“A thriving, diverse press is the backbone of a healthy and vibrant democracy. When newsrooms are full, the public reaps those rewards” and is more civically engaged, Wicks said.


The bill’s passage comes a day after a Meta spokesperson warned the company would “be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies” if the bill becomes law.


“To me, this is an empty threat,” Wicks said of Meta’s statement. “These companies have made billions and billions and billions of dollars while our newsrooms are shutting down across the state of California.”


She acknowledged the bill “will not save journalism, but it will provide a support for news outlets and journalists when the stakes could not be higher.”


The measure passed the Assembly with a vote of 46-6 Thursday with bipartisan support, though several lawmakers held off on voting, some cited details that are “not fully baked.” Wicks pledged to keep working on the bill. It will next be heard in the Senate.


Some state lawmakers raised concerns that the bill would largely benefit the biggest news outlets and incentivize misinformation and clickbait on tech platforms.


Assembly member Josh Hoover, a Republican from Folsom, said he worried the bill would lead platforms to suppress news stories to avoid paying the fees.


“I do think that could have a very negative unintended consequence where we’re going to have less free press as a result of this bill [and] less access to important stories,” he said.


The legislation includes anti-retaliation language to block platforms from punishing news outlets that assert the right to be paid if the bill becomes law.


News outlets are divided on the legislation. It is sponsored by the California News Publishers Association, which represents the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle along with dozens of smaller papers and digital outlets.


Its opposition includes a group representing more than 50 local, independent outlets in California.


Neil Chase, CEO of the nonprofit outlet CalMatters wrote in an opposition letter that “the primary beneficiaries will be the large hedge-fund and debt-financed companies that are letting California newspapers die.”


“These companies will not deliver more journalism if they get money from this bill; they’ll use it to preserve their cash flow,” Chase wrote.

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