Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reneged Tuesday on a promise to keep a key bill that holds Big Tech platforms financial liable for the content they glean from news publisher's websites.
After criticism from a handful of Republican senators that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was being used to piggyback unrelated legislation during the lame-duck session, McConnell signaled to Democrats in the Senate and House he would oppose any such add-ons.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) was left out of a bicameral agreement made for the NDAA in text released Tuesday.
The JCPA is backed by almost all major online conservative media, including Newsmax, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, Townhall and Salem Media, The Washington Times and others.
After press reports indicated McConnell would support the inclusion of the JCPA in the NDAA, Google and Facebook launched an all-out lobbying and media offensive to stop it.
Facebook said it would "consider removing news from our platform" if lawmakers moved ahead with the "ill-considered" bill.
The JCPA had advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September with strong bipartisan support.
The proposal would have created a safe harbor from antitrust law allowing news publications and broadcasters to collectively press for more favorable distribution terms for online content.
The legislation also excludes big, establishment media companies, allowing only publisher's with less than 1,500 employees to participate.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, successfully added an amendment to the legislation that protects against Big Tech companies from targeting or de-ranking websites based on ideology, a key protection for conservative media.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., led the effort in a temporary lifeline for reeling news publications whose advertising revenue has plummeted amid the growth of digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook.
A similar bill was backed in the House, with strong support from conservative Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.
"Continually allowing the Big Tech companies to dominate policy decisions in Washington is no longer a viable option when it comes to news compensation, consumer and privacy rights, or the online marketplace," Klobuchar said in a statement Wednesday after the defense bill was released.
"We must get this done," she added.
As the JCPA stood to be added to the NDA, a slew of think tanks and associations, many of them with ties to Google and Facebook, issued a flurry of press releases criticizing the bill.
The bill had been endorsed by the News Media Alliance, a consortium of small and medium-size publishers who are unable to have the clout to negotiate financial and content arrangements with Big Tech.
The News Media Alliance was originally supported by News Corp., the global newspaper giant controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch also controls News Corp.'s sister company Fox News.
But last year News Corp. successfully lobbied Australia's parliament to pass a bill similar to the JCPA that required Facebook and Google to pay publishers for the content they link to.
At the time, Facebook also threatened Australia's parliament that, if the law passed, it would stop taking publishers' content in their newsfeeds. The company never fully followed through on its threatened shutdown.
After losing in Australia, Google and Facebook quickly signed a global deal for the content of News Corp., including in the U.S., an arrangement that provides the media company more than $50 million in annual revenue, according to a knowledgeable source.
In the wake of that deal, News Corp. withdrew its public support for the JCPA in the U.S.
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