Former Antitrust Enforcer: ‘Nothing This Country Needs Less’ Than Media Cartel

New York, NY, USA - July 11, 2016: Headquarters of The New York Times in night
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Speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) last week, Harvard fellow and former FTC antitrust enforcer Dr. Daniel Francis told lawmakers that he “cannot think of anything the country needs less, now or ever” than the kind of national news media cartel the bill would create.

The JCPA, which Breitbart News has covered extensively, would create an antitrust exemption for media companies, protecting widely distrusted media companies from competition by allowing them to form a legal cartel to collectively bargain with Silicon Valley.

If the bill passes, big media companies would be able to strike deals with Facebook, Google, Twitter. The language of the bill stipulates that organizations or one-man journalistic operations that do not have “a dedicated professional editorial staff” would be left out of the benefits of such deals, excluding a wide swathe of independent and local journalism.

Dr. Francis, who worked as a senior antitrust official at the FTC for just under three years, told lawmakers that passing the bill would not have the effects its proponents claim.

“I cannot think of anything the country needs less, now or ever, than a national news media cartel,” said Francis.

“Cartels are the supreme evil of antitrust. They are so reliably harmful that we extradite and imprison people who form them, they are automatically illegal in civil litigation with no justification allowed at law, and for decades, the justice department has had a flagship policy project of fighting cartels and opposing exemptions just like this one.”

The Harvard lecturer went on to poke holes in the corporate media’s arguments for passing the bill, in particular the argument that tech platforms don’t pay media organizations for linking to their content because of their unfair buyer power, a position known as monopsony.

“Platforms aren’t linking and previewing for free because they’re monopsonists exercising buyer power, it’s because our property laws very wisely don’t give a website owner, whether it’s the owner of a news website or something else, the power to veto or tax linking or fair use previewing of that website,” said Francis.

“It’s pretty easy to see that this has nothing to do with monopsony power, because no one pays for it. We could, if someone has the coding ability, start an app today and link and preview websites without paying for that privilege. Our law gives everyone that freedom.”

“Links are the lifeblood of the internet. Imagine how hard it would be to write even a traditional article or book if you couldn’t cite a source or quote a sentence or two without paying for that privilege. And now imagine the consequences of that rule for our internet today.”

“This is not really about monopoly or monopsony at all, it’s a request to dramatically expand [property] rights on the internet, and then to allow that property right to be sold by a new national news cartel, with major media conglomerates at the helm. I think whatever antitrust reform we need today — and I think we need some — this is not that.”

Francis concluded his remarks by warning that the JCPA would simply create another monopoly-like organization, led by some of the wealthiest and most powerful media conglomerates in the world.

“A national news cartel sure would be a monopolist,” said Francis. “I think this subcommittee would be really concerned if even two of the major publishers were to propose a merger. The idea that we might put all of them together under one roof to agree on rates and terms and business models strikes me as a consumer’s nightmare.”

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.


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