By Marcy Gordon

The Associated Press

Members of both parties on Tuesday suggested legislation may be necessary for the financially-struggling U.S. news industry as lawmakers began a bipartisan investigation into the market dominance of Silicon Valley companies.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, news media associations accused the tech companies of jeopardizing the industry’s economic survival by putting news content on their platforms without fairly compensating them.

“This is the first significant antitrust investigation undertaken by Congress in decades,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the subcommittee’s chairman, said at the start of the hearing. The investigation is long overdue, he said, and Congress must determine whether the antitrust laws “are equipped for the competition problems of our modern economy.”

Cicilline noted the steep layoffs in the news industry in recent years, saying the dominant position of the online platforms in the advertising market has created “an economic catastrophe for news publishers, forcing them to cut back on their investments in quality journalism.” At the same time, he said, tech platforms that are gateways to news online “have operated with virtual immunity from the antitrust laws.”

Cicilline proposed legislation to establish an antitrust exemption that would allow news companies to band together to negotiate revenue rates with big tech platforms.

The senior Republican on the full committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said he backs Cicilline’s proposal. Addressing the broader question of antitrust, however, he said, “Big is not necessarily bad,” adding that lawmakers need to proceed cautiously.

Stepping ahead of the criticism, Google’s Vice President of News Richard Gringas said the company has “worked for many years to be a collaborative and supportive technology and advertising partner to the news industry.”

“Every month, Google News and Google Search drive over 10 billion clicks to publishers’ websites, which drive subscriptions and significant ad revenue,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Not only is the investigation bipartisan, it’s also the first such review by Congress of a sector that has enjoyed haloed status and a light touch from federal regulators.

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