News publishers' alliance calls on feds to investigate Google for limiting California links

The News/Media Alliance, a journalism trade organization and advocacy group, on Tuesday asked federal government officials to investigate Google after the tech giant said it would limit links to California news outlets in its search results.

The alliance, which represents publishers in the news and magazine industry, said Google’s actions appear “to either be coercive or retaliatory, driven by Google’s opposition to a pending legislative measure in Sacramento.”

The proposed state measure in question, called the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), would require tech companies, including Google, who sell advertising alongside news content to pay news publishers.

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, News/Media Alliance Chief Executive Danielle Coffey called on regulators to “investigate whether Google is violating federal law in blocking or impeding their ability to find news that they rely upon for their business, their prosperity, their pleasure, their democracy and, sometimes, their lives.”

The L.A. Times is a member of the News/Media Alliance.

Google, the Justice Department and the FTC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Google said Friday that it would start to test limiting some users’ access to links from California news outlets and raised concerns in a blog post about the bill, saying it would change its business model.

“We have long said that this is the wrong approach to supporting journalism,” Jaffer Zaidi, vice president of Google’s Global News Partnerships, wrote in a blog post Friday. “If passed, CJPA may result in significant changes to the services we can offer Californians and the traffic we can provide to California publishers.”

But news organizations in California say they are dealing with declining revenues, in part due to a digital ad market dominated by players like Google, and are struggling to build up their base of digital subscribers. Many news outlets including the L.A. Times, Business Insider and Vice have laid off staff to cut costs.

Under the bill, news outlets would pay at least 70% of the money gained from the legislation back to their staffs. Smaller outlets could pay a smaller percentage.

Google said it has partnered with more than 7,000 global news publishers through its Google News Initiative, including 6,000 journalists in California, but Zaidi said the company was pausing expansion of that initiative “until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment.”

During a news event with visiting Norwegian officials Tuesday in the Bay Area, a reporter asked Gov. Gavin Newsom if he had a response to Google taking down California news links.

“How do I best say this?” Newsom said. “We’re in conversations with the company you referenced. Let’s leave it at that.”

Newsom has not yet taken a position on the California Journalism Preservation Act. It’s common for the governor to refrain from publicly sharing his position on a bill before it reaches his desk, though he has made some exceptions. A spokesperson for the governor said Newsom is engaging with lawmakers about the bill.

“He is continuing to have constructive conversations on this important subject with the Legislature,” said Izzy Gordon, a spokesperson for the governor.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), who introduced Assembly Bill 886, met with Newsom last week and “had a very constructive conversation about AB 886,” said Erin Ivie, a spokesperson for the Wicks.

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