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January 20, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 9:57am

Respect for journalists and big tech accountability: News industry’s wishlist for President Joe Biden

By William Turvill

After four years of unrelenting verbal abuse from Donald Trump, the US news media is hoping today’s inauguration of President  Joe Biden will mark the resumption of a “respectful” relationship between the White House and the press.

News industry bosses spoken to by Press Gazette also expect the Biden regime to crack down on Google and Facebook, which are blamed both for the spread of misinformation and for the financial troubles of media organisations.

The two companies – known as the “duopoly” because of their dominance over the online advertising market – are facing several legal battles in the US relating to competition, or antitrust, concerns.

There have also been growing calls in Washington for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which could make social media sites responsible and liable for posts on their platforms.

Google and Facebook are currently embroiled in a battle in Australia to stop authorities forcing them to pay news organisations to use their content. There may be a risk for the duopoly that if these rules work in Australia, similar legislation could be introduced in other countries like the US.

How will Biden take on big tech issues?

David Chavern, the chief executive and president of the News Media Alliance – a trade body that represents around 2,000 news organisations across the US – said that Biden representatives “have been pretty ambiguous so far” on their plans for tackling issues relating to Google and Facebook.

But events have already pushed the conversation well beyond ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ when it comes to addressing Big Tech,” he added.

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“Our society is being torn apart by misinformation and the major tech companies stand astride huge segments of our economy. The issues can’t be ignored anymore.  

“For that reason, I expect the Biden administration to aggressively pursue antitrust actions, and address the role of the tech platforms in our information ecosystem.  

“That would include supporting systems for the proper compensation of professional journalism.”

Jason Kint, the chief executive of Digital Content Next – a trade body representing online news publishers – told Press Gazette: “There is no more important work on the agenda of the government relevant to our industry than the bipartisan antitrust lawsuits filed last month against Google and Facebook.

“All other policy discussions, whether consumer privacy or liability under [Section 230], are downstream from two companies sucking the oxygen out of the future of digital content.”

An end to ‘dangerous anti-press rhetoric’

The other main, and more immediate, change the news media can expect from President Biden is a change of tone in White House media relations.

“Democracy thrives on a free and plural press at tension with government but it also requires a mutual respect for our institutions,” said Kint.

“We’re looking forward to all parts of the American government reasserting this critical role and working over time to once again be an example for the world.”

Chavern said: “I think that, first and foremost, the biggest change will be an administration that will be much more respectful of the constitutional role of the press.  

“The dangerous anti-press rhetoric will go away and we will return to more regular order in terms of briefings and press availabilities.  

“But I wouldn’t mistake respect for friendliness. The natural role of the press is to challenge those in power, and reporters are certainly going to be aggressively challenging the Biden administration.”

Picture credit: Shutterstock/ Ron Adar

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