Editorial: McConnell’s support for safe harbor legislation a boost for future of journalism

Published 6:09 am Tuesday, January 14, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

The long-term outlook for the health of our representative democracy got a little brighter last week, thanks to a Kentucky senator who is one of the most powerful people in Washington, D.C.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signed on as a co-sponsor of “safe harbor” legislation that could allow the newspaper industry to reclaim funding for journalism that has been siphoned away by social media.

The Rural Blog recently explained what the legislation would accomplish: It “would give newspapers a four-year exemption from anti-trust laws to negotiate with the internet platforms that profit from their journalism but have cost them much of the advertising revenue that has been the main source of money to pay for that journalism.”

There is strong bipartisan support for the legislation, which now includes McConnell. The lead sponsor is Rep. Doug Collins from Georgia, a main defender of President Donald Trump against impeachment.

McConnell and Trump are hardly media darlings — there is probably no one else in America who has received as much investigative reporting attention as those two.

Trump is famous for his verbal attacks on the media and apparent distaste for their freedom to be critical of him. His worst attacks sound like the same attacks used by dictators in other countries where a free press does not exist and government-censored state media is how people get their “news.”

But it’s easy to assume the worst from someone’s words. Actions are much harder to misinterpret. The strong support for this free harbor legislation from all corners proves, whatever Trump may say, that people of all political stripes understand how essential the “fourth estate” is to maintaining a functioning republic — especially one that values freedom of all kinds so highly.

Without the media’s check on government’s power, the freedoms we enjoy — to believe in God, to reject others’ beliefs, to speak our minds, to give to charities, to make money for ourselves, to choose our leaders — could all evaporate.

The transfer en masse of advertising revenue from newspapers to Facebook and Google is not the only challenge facing journalists today — not by a long shot. But it is one of if not the largest single existential threat.

McConnell and all of the politicians who are supporting this legislation are demonstrating through their actions that they understand what is at stake and they’re willing to protect our form of government and the freedoms that come with it.