By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers heard testimony on Friday over whether a bill aimed at helping news outlets negotiate with tech platforms was an appropriate way to help the struggling industry, including discussion of whether it should be restricted to smaller news organizations.
Representative David Cicilline, chair of the House Judiciary Committee antitrust panel, said his bill to allow a broad array of news organizations to collectively negotiate with Alphabet's Google and Facebook in hopes of recouping ad revenues would be a "temporary solution to an urgent problem."
His bill and a Senate companion were introduced on Wednesday.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan has been critical of the big tech platforms, but also seemed skeptical of the bill. "Maybe that's the right course, but I got real questions about that," he said.
Representative Val Demings asked for reassurance that smaller publications would genuinely benefit from the legislation. Critics have expressed concern that joint negotiations with the platforms would strengthen the richest, most powerful media outlets and leave struggling smaller publications behind.
But David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance, argued that removing the bigger organizations, like the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post from the legislation, would make it less likely that joint negotiations would succeed.
"The collective action primarily benefits those who don't have a way to assert their value," said Chavern. "Without the big publishers, the small ones have no hope."
If it becomes law, the legislation creates a four-year antitrust exemption that would benefit any print, broadcast, or digital news organization with a dedicated editorial staff that publishes at least weekly. At least 25% of their output should be original.
In addition to this measure, Cicilline has said he plans to introduce a series of bills aimed at toughening antitrust laws.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz. Editing by Mark Potter)