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The European Union’s competition watchdog slapped a record 2.42 billion euro (2.72 billion US dollars) fine on internet giant Google on Tuesday for breaching antitrust rules with its online shopping service. (June 27)
AP

Newspaper publishers, reeling from the digital ascendance of Facebook and Google, which ring up most of the world’s online advertising sales, want anti-trust exemption to better negotiate with their Internet rivals. 

News Media Alliance is proposing the exemption to bargain collectively with the online platforms. The non-profit previously known as the Newspaper Association of America represents large publishers, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, as well as smaller, regional papers. Gannett, parent company of USA TODAY and more than 100 local media organizations across the country, is also a member. 

“The objective is to permit publishers to have concrete discussions with the two dominant distributors of online news content, Google and Facebook, on business model solutions to secure the long-term availability of local journalism produced by America’s newsrooms,” News Media Alliance said in statement. 

Antitrust laws are used to promote fair competition and avoid monopolies.

News Media Alliance President and CEO, David Chavern, wrote in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal that Facebook and Google could be more harmful to the news industry than tweets from President Donald Trump, who regularly attacks the news industry as “fake.

“The problem is that today’s internet distribution systems distort the flow of economic value derived from good reporting,” Chavern wrote. “But the two digital giants don’t employ reporters: They don’t dig through public records to uncover corruption, send correspondents into war zones, or attend last night’s game to get the highlights. They expect an economically squeezed news industry to do that costly work for them.”

Newspaper ad revenue is down from nearly $50 billion 10 years ago to $18 billion in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Facebook and Google control more than 53% of the digital ad market in the U.S., according to eMarketer. They’re estimated to control more than 80% of U.S. Internet advertising growth.

Chavern argued that if antitrust enforcers in the U.S. applied the existing laws to Facebook and Google, the laws the News Media Alliance are suggesting would be unnecessary. He pointed to Facebook’s acquisition of two major competitors, WhatsApp and Instagram and Google’s purchases in the online advertising business of Doubleclick, AdMob and AdMeld. Chavern notes that European regulators have begun to act by fining Google $2.7 billion for violations of fair competition.

One solution: U.S. anti-trust authorities should allow publishers to band together to create a “unified front,” he wrote.

“Gannett applauds the NMA’s efforts to draw attention to the impact the dominance of Google and Facebook is having on the news business,” said Barbara Wall, the company’s chief legal officer. “Providing a safe harbor for publishers to negotiate jointly with Google and Facebook would be an important first step in addressing the issue.”

Facebook and Google have acknowledged the pressures facing the news industry, rolling out programs to support local journalism. In Facebook’s case, it’s also tried to rebuff claims it is playing the role of a de facto news leader, while its staff and algorithms attempt to reduce hoaxes, fake news and violence on the site.

“We’re committed to helping quality journalism thrive on Facebook. We’re making progress through our work with news publishers and have more work to do,” said a statement from Campbell Brown, Head of News Partnerships at Facebook.

Google did not respond to request for comment, but told the Los Angeles Times, “We remain deeply committed to helping publishers with both their challenges, and their opportunities.”

Follow USA Today’s Madeline Purdue on Twitter, @madelinepurdue.