At Hearing with Big Tech CEOs, Cantwell Defends Local Journalism, Presses Platforms on Unfair Practices

Cantwell: “The free press needs to live and be supported by all of us” and we need to “make sure that they get a fair return on their value”

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, highlighted how unfair and abusive practices employed by Big Tech platforms have had devastating impacts on local news media and contributed to dramatic declines in revenue for local journalism and broadcasting organizations. A report released by Cantwell earlier this week called for Congress and the FTC to take further steps to protect local journalism.

In her opening statement, Senator Cantwell highlighted the significant challenges local journalism is facing and spoke about the importance of protecting local journalism jobs: “I am concerned about the vertical nature of news and information. Today I expect to ask the witnesses about the fact that I believe they create a choke point for local news. The local news media have lost 70% of their revenue over the last decade, and we have lost thousands, thousands of journalistic jobs that are important.” Cantwell continued, “Somehow, we have to come together to show that the diversity of voices that local news represent need to be dealt with fairly when it comes to the advertising market. And that too much control in the advertising market puts a foot on their ability to continue to move forward and grow in the digital age.”

On Tuesday, Cantwell released an extensive report examining the transformation of local news in the information age and impacts to local journalism from the rise of major tech platforms including Facebook and Google. The report found that over the past two decades, the local newspaper industry has lost around 70 percent of its total revenue, and newspapers have been forced to let go of more than 40,000 newsroom employees, a full 60 percent of their journalistic workforce. The report identifies unfair and abusive practices by major tech platforms that have contributed to the drastic revenue declines. The biggest online platforms unfairly use content, take local news consumer data, and divert customers away from local news websites, while providing little in return. Congress and the FTC should act to address these unfair and abusive practices to help sustain the competition that local news provides.

In her questioning with witnesses at today’s hearing, Cantwell asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai, “Do you think that Google is taking ad revenue from these news sources in an unfair way?”

Pichai responded, “I do think journalism, as you rightfully have called attention to it, particularly local journalism, is very important… We send a lot of traffic to news publishers, all the ad technology questions I'm getting asked today, we, in this ad technology, share a majority of revenue back to publishers. We are investing in subscription products. We have committed $2 billion in new licensing over the next three years to news organizations, we have set up local emergency funds through COVID for local journalistic distributions.”

Cantwell pressed him saying, “I don't think that you’ve turned the majority of the revenue to these broadcast entities. I do think it's a problem. Yes, they've had to make it through the transformation which is a rocky transformation, but we need—the message from today's hearing is the free press needs to live and be supported by all of us, and we look forward to discussing how we can make sure that they get fair return on their value.”

Video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

Video of Cantwell’s questioning with witnesses can be found HERE and audio is HERE.

Transcripts can be found HERE.