AB 886 Clears Early Legislative Hurdle

Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection votes 9-0 to advance the California Journalism Preservation Act

PUBLISHED MAY 1, 2023 3:01 P.M.
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Asm. Buffy Wicks addresses the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection

Asm. Buffy Wicks addresses the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection

Not long after opponents addressed the California Journalism Preservation Act, AB 886, Bill Essayli had his chance to speak.

The bill would force tech giants such as Google and Facebook to pay news organizations for using their content. Several people were at an April 25 hearing, at the California Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection to voice opposition, led by Katharine Trendacosta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Tepring Piquado for tech trade group the Chamber of Progress.

Essayli, a Republican Assemblyman out of Riverside, wasn’t having it, saying he was struggling to understand the opposition and that in his community, the one reporter tasked with covering the politics of two counties was often reduced to reprinting press releases.

“It’s not really doing anyone a service,” Essayli said. “And you’re not going to convince me that Google is not benefiting and profiting off the backs of the work of journalists.”

It seemed to sum up the prevailing mood of the day, with the committee voting 9-0 to advance the bill. It will next be heard on May 2 at the Assembly Judiciary Committee. [Update: The bill was heard as scheduled by the judiciary committee and passed 10-0, with Essayli requesting to be added as a co-author.]

Arguments For and Against the Bill

The hearing for the bill on April 25 came six hours into the committee’s meeting.

“I just watched six hours of hearings on the most boggling array of policy issues to appear in front of this body, and I’m thunderstruck that this room is not absolutely crawling with journalists,” said Matt Pearce, president of Media Guild of the West, who was speaking in support of the bill. “This, right here, is the issue.”

Also at issue: The survival of U.S. democracy, which has faced repeated bellwether tests in recent years as newsrooms have shrunk and many publications shuttered entirely.

“We have always made space for the fourth estate in our discourse, because without it, our civic health is at risk,” the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) told the committee.

Danielle Coffey of News Media Alliance also spoke in support of the bill, telling the committee, “Google and Facebook systematically and deliberately feed users our content to drive engagement. They do so within their walled gardens and personalized feeds so that they can collect your user data, your personal information and then target you with advertising.”

A few speakers followed Wicks, Pearce and Coffey to voice brief support of the bill, including Brittney Barsotti, general counsel for the California News Publishers Association.

Trendacosta and Piquado wasted no time mounting an opposition, though.

Trendacosta spoke first, saying first that she had been a full-time journalist before going to work for EFF because of the state of digital media. That didn’t sway Trendacosta toward supporting AB 886, though. “When I say this bill is not going to help digital media," she said, "I am very serious about it.”

Trendacosta asserted that the funding from AB 886 would go to wealthy interests, and that the bill could incentivize clickbait.

Piquado followed, offering a four-point attack—namely, that the bill would line national media’s pockets, promote clickbait, and force platforms to carry disinformation, while journalists wouldn’t be assured the bill’s funding would go to their salaries. The bill’s language currently requires that 70 percent of funds go to newsrooms, but doesn’t specify whether this has to go directly to journalist’s paychecks.

“To be clear, we’re not opposed to supporting local journalism,” said Piquado, who suggested tax credits or subscription subsidies. “This bill does not do that.”

How the Committee Reacted 

Committee members voiced various concerns about the bill or certain provisions of it.

“I go into this with my eyes open—this may not work,” said Steve Bennett, a Democrate from Ojai. But, he added, society couldn’t stick with the status quo, “the complete hollowing out of journalism.”

At times, the hearing got heated. Trendacosta interjected during an exchange between Coffey and Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) about copyright, which led to committee chair Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) to admonish that this wasn’t the British Parliament and that only assembly members or people they were questioning should be speaking.

Shortly after, Bauer-Kahan, who said that her grandparents wre Holocaust survivors, struck a personal note.

“When we talk about the proliferation of hate, it was the control of the media and the control of information that allows that to happen,” Bauer-Kahan said. “So as we talk about the end of hate, we need to also talk about what other things we need to be doing around that and I think this is such an important piece of that.”

Assemblywoman Lori Wilson followed, echoing mildly-concerned support that had been voiced by California Black Media during public comment. Wilson said her main concern was that Black media might be left out of the discussion.

As the bill moves forward, other concerns could potentially be ironed out, with Wicks noting at the beginning of her presentation that amendments for the bill would be taken at the May 2 hearing at 9 a.m. with the Judiciary Committee.

In the end, though, concerns with the bill weren’t enough to sway any members of the Assembly committee. Essayli pointed out that Google made $280 billion in 2022.

“That’s the budget of the state of California,” Essayli said. “They’re making a lot of money off us, off our data and so I think they need to pay.”

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