National Association of Broadcasters

Emily Barr Testifies at Hearing on Big Tech Impact on Local Media

March 12, 2021
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today (March 12, 20210), the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law is holding a hearing titled “Reviving Competition, Part 2: Saving the Free and Diverse Pres.”

In advance of the hearing, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the Native American Journalists Association and the Radio Television Digital News Association submitted a letter to the Subcommittee supporting the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which would institute an antitrust safe harbor allowing news producers to negotiate with digital platforms over the carriage terms of their content. NAB issued this statement in support of the JCPA upon the bill’s introduction.

Emily Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, is testifying before the Subcommittee on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning Chairman Cicilline, Ranking Member Buck and members of the subcommittee. My name is Emily Barr, and I am the President and CEO of Graham Media Group, owner of seven local television stations. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters, and its nearly 7,200 free and local television and radio station members in your hometowns.

Broadcasters represent one of the last bastions of truly local, unbiased journalism – information that is still respected by all Americans. Your constituents turn to their local reporters and anchors for voices they trust. Legislative action, including swift passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, is needed to preserve this essential cornerstone of our democracy.

This past year challenged us in myriad ways, but among the most painful for many Americans was the isolation they experienced – detachment from their families, neighbors and communities. When it was needed most, local television and radio stations provided the civic bond for the communities we serve, doing incredible work in the face of our own enormous challenges. We continue to be the primary source of the community-focused information on which your constituents have relied during this pandemic: How do I keep my family safe? When and where can I get vaccinated? When can I visit my grandparents? When can my children safely go back to school? These are the questions that we help our viewers and listeners navigate every day.

This past year has also tested our democracy and the very pillars upon which it stands, including a free and diverse press. Due in large part to the misinformation circulating unchecked in the digital ecosystem, more and more Americans have lost faith in the information reaching their eyes and ears. Fortunately, local broadcasters remain a touchstone for the truth, and are the most trusted sources of information in the country.

I am proud that Graham Media’s stations exemplify this commitment to community and truth. For example, Floridians who were recently shut out by the state’s failed unemployment system did what Americans do when there is no one else to turn to: They called upon their local broadcaster. WKMG in Orlando answered that call, shining a light on that crisis and creating the publicity and pressure needed to put nearly a million dollars in unpaid benefits into the hands of Floridians entitled to them.

I have spent over four decades in local broadcast television, working in virtually every capacity from the newsroom to the boardroom, and I understand the significant costs of producing quality journalism.

But quality journalism, delivered through our uniquely free service, has only been made possible over many decades through advertising revenues. As you all are aware, these revenues have experienced a free-fall in recent years, due almost exclusively to the rapid, often anticompetitive, expansion of the dominant online platforms. The market power of the tech platforms undermines the online advertising model for local broadcast journalism in two important ways. First, the tech platforms’ role as content gatekeepers stifles our ability to generate user traffic. Second, anticompetitive terms of service and a “take it or leave it” approach leave local broadcasters with a below-market sliver of those advertising revenues. For local broadcasters and our viewers and listeners, this is a catch-22: To attract online user traffic, we must be accessible through the major platforms, yet the terms of access dictated by the platforms devalue our product.

Even more concerning is the degree to which certain platforms commoditize news content with little regard for the quality and veracity of the story. This puts fact-based reporting like ours on par with unsubstantiated click-bait as we fight for user eyeballs in both platform news feeds and traditional search. The result is a dangerous focus on catchy headlines and viral stories over quality journalism.

This market transformation has been exacerbated by deliberate decisions on the part of the tech platforms to put technological and systemic roadblocks in the way of broadcasters trying to gain access to these platforms.

The barriers to entry erected by the major platforms take on many forms. For example, decisions about which content will be prioritized by algorithms often favor sensationalism and misinformation over hard journalism. Platforms decide unilaterally which content can be monetized and how much revenue they will share.

As a result, the dominant online platforms have flourished, siphoning off huge amounts of advertising revenues that are the lifeblood of free, local journalism.

One significant step toward curing these harms would be the passage of the JCPA. NAB strongly supports this targeted, commonsense proposal, which would give broadcasters and other news publishers the ability to level the playing field in negotiations with the tech giants.

In addition to the JCPA, NAB looks forward to working with Congress to explore additional policy remedies to ensure that journalists and news organizations are fairly compensated for the reporting and content they create recognizing the inherent value of this original content.

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. I look forward to your questions.

***

Background

Last year, NAB submitted a filing with the Subcommittee detailing how digital platforms’ overwhelming competitive position puts broadcasters at a disadvantage for advertising revenue and impedes broadcasters’ ability to effectively monetize their own content online. More information about NAB’s position regarding the impact of technology companies’ marketplace power on local journalism can be found here.

About NAB

The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America’s broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.

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This post was written by Doris

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