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U.S. lawmakers to introduce antitrust bills to protect news media

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers led by Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative David Cicilline will introduce legislation on Wednesday aimed at making it easier for news organizations to negotiate collectively with platforms like Google and Facebook.

The bill comes not long after Facebook had a pitched battle with Australia over how much publishers should make from their social media pages. During the fight, Facebook blacked out Australian news pages and only restored them once the government granted concessions. It also promised a $1 billion investment in the news industry.

Senator John Kennedy and Representative Ken Buck, both Republicans, said they will also sponsor the bills. Klobucar and Cicilline are both Democrats.

The measure would allow print, broadcast or digital news organizations to work together to win better deals from Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google during a four-year period, when they would not be subject to antitrust laws. The bill would require the negotiations to aid news publishers generally rather than a small number.

Klobuchar said she was optimistic about the possibility of the measure’s becoming law because of the growing concern of lawmakers from both parties about monopolies. “Tech has no mercy,” she said, saying the bills would allow negotiations on “everything from advertising revenue to access to information on subscribers.”

She noted that most people now get their news online through Facebook and Google.

Social media companies use news to attract users and have been accused by news publishers of not sharing enough advertising revenue with them. The legislation could boost revenues.

The news industry is undeniably struggling, with employment at U.S. newspapers down by half since 2008 amid tumbling advertising revenue and changing media habits, according to data from Pew Research.

“This bill will give hardworking local reporters and publishers the helping hand they need right now, so they can continue to do their important work,” Cicilline said in a statement.

Smaller publishers using Google’s ad sales technology have for years complained about their bigger competitors getting more favorable revenue-sharing deals from the search giant.

The House of Representatives Judiciary antitrust panel, which Cicilline chairs, will hold a hearing on the matter on Friday.

In the Senate, Klobuchar introduced a broader bill in February aimed at strengthening antitrust enforcers’ ability to stop mergers by lowering the bar for stopping deals and increasing resources for enforcers. Cicilline is expected to introduce a series of antitrust bills in the House. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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