WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hubbard Broadcasting Senior Vice President and General Manager Joel Oxley testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights at a hearing titled "Breaking the News – Journalism, Competition, and the Effects of Market Power on a Free Press."
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon, Chairwoman Klobuchar, Ranking Member Lee and members of the subcommittee. My name is Joel Oxley and I am the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the all-news radio station WTOP-FM, WTOP.com and FederalNewsNetwork.com, which are all owned by Hubbard Broadcasting. Hubbard Broadcasting is a St. Paul, Minnesota, family-owned-and-operated broadcasting company with 13 television stations located in Minnesota, New York and New Mexico, and 50 radio stations located in Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, Florida and Washington, D.C. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters, and its more than 6,600 free and local television and radio station members in your hometowns.
Broadcasters represent one of the last bastions of truly local, unbiased journalism—information that is still respected by all Americans. Your constituents turn to their local reporters and anchors for voices they trust. Legislative action, including swift passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), is needed to preserve this essential cornerstone of our democracy.
Local journalists and the communities we serve face an existential threat whose fate increasingly rests in the hands of a few dominant digital platforms. We applaud this subcommittee’s attention to this challenge, and your continued work in examining the digital marketplace for news and journalism.
The pandemic has shown that when needed most, local television and radio stations provided the civic bond for the communities we serve, doing incredible work in the face of our own enormous challenges. More importantly, we continue to be the primary source of the community-focused information on which your constituents have relied during this pandemic, from health and vaccine resources to vital information about schools and local businesses.
I’ve been in the news business since college when I wrote for the school newspaper and was a sportscaster at the radio station. I worked with Scripps Howard and The Chicago Tribune before joining WTOP three decades ago, where I have worked my way up in sales and sales management before becoming the General Manager in 1998. I understand the significant costs of producing quality journalism. I am keenly aware of the significant financial resources needed to run a station and invest in the type of equipment necessary to serve the public day in and day out, 365 days a year.
Quality journalism delivered through our uniquely free service has only been made possible over many decades through advertising revenues. As you all are aware, these revenues have experienced a free-fall in recent years, due almost exclusively to the rapid, often anticompetitive, expansion of the dominant online platforms who have upended the advertising marketplace.
The market power of the tech platforms undermines the online advertising model for local broadcast journalism in two important ways. First, the tech platforms’ role as content gatekeepers stifles our ability to generate user traffic. Second, anticompetitive terms of service and a “take it or leave it” approach leave local broadcasters with a below-market sliver of those advertising revenues derived through their products. For local broadcasters and our viewers and listeners who rely on quality journalism, this is a real catch-22: To attract online user traffic, we must be accessible through the major platforms, yet the terms of access dictated by the online platforms devalue our product. For example, not only is WTOP not being compensated by Facebook and Google for its content, WTOP is actually paying to make sure its content is being accessed on their platforms.
Even more concerning is the degree to which certain platforms commoditize news content with little regard for the quality and veracity of the story. This puts fact-based reporting like ours on par with unsubstantiated click-bait as we fight for user eyeballs in both platform news feeds and search results. There is no doubt that the tech platforms and their algorithms prioritize content that favors sensationalism over hard journalism.
The dominant online platforms have flourished, siphoning off huge amounts of advertising revenues that are the lifeblood of free, local journalism. Consider the big storm that just blew through the Northeast over the weekend – a nor’easter and blizzard conditions. Tons of work at a lot of cost and time for local broadcasters to cover it for millions of people. But not for Facebook, Google and the like. They simply take our coverage and profit from it, and virtually nothing comes back to us. But without local news, my guess is a lot of people would have not evacuated places like Cape Cod last weekend, and lives would have been risked. We just can’t have that.
In conclusion, this Committee can address these concerns through the passage of the JCPA. NAB thanks Chairwoman Klobuchar and Senator Kennedy for reintroducing the JCPA, a targeted, commonsense proposal. NAB strongly supports the JCPA, which would level the playing field by creating a temporary safe harbor for broadcasters and certain digital publications to jointly negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms and conditions by which their content may be accessed online.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. I look forward to your questions.
The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at www.nab.org.