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Big Tech content aggregators should give share of revenues to digital platforms

Big Tech content aggregators should give a “fair share of revenues” to digital platforms of print news publishers and there was a need to address the “disproportionate imbalance” in this dynamic, the Government said Friday.

In his message read out at the inaugural session of a day-long conclave organised by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), Information and Broadcasting Secretary Apurva Chandra linked this to the “future of journalism.”

Speaking from Bengaluru, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, also underlined this imperative.

Flagging the strained financial health of not just the digital news industry but the parent print news industry as well, post-Covid, Chandra said. “For the growth of the news industry, it is important that digital news platforms of all these publishers, who are the creators of original content, get a fair share of revenues from the Big Tech platforms which act as aggregators of content created by others.”

The Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) is an umbrella organisation of 17 leading news publishers of the country, including The Indian Express.

Chandra said it is clear that if the traditional news industry continues to be negatively impacted, “the future of journalism, our fourth pillar, is also hit. Thus, this is a question of journalism and credible content as well.”

Underlining that it was not easy to keep pace with the changes in the field of technology, Chandra said questions have emerged on issues that impact governance of a big democracy, the changing dynamics of the news publishing industry, their businesses and social lives of citizens.

The DNPA members have adequate systems of checks and balances to ensure correct and factual news flow, and are “good examples of our stated policy of self-regulation”, he said. However, as India grows digitally, challenges have emerged in the sector where such systems of checks and balances are not in place, he said.

Australia, Canada, France and the EU have taken initiatives, through their legislatures and strengthening of their competition commissions, to ensure a fair split of revenue between the creators of news content and the aggregators, Chandra said. Saying that he hoped the conclave would lead to meaningful suggestions in the Indian context, he said the government would do whatever is in the best interest of all.

Speaking at the conclave, Paul Fletcher, Australia’s Member of Parliament who was its Minister of Communications when it passed the landmark News Media Bargaining Code, elaborated on how Canberra dealt with the pushback from Google and Facebook when the draft of the code was first shared with them.

“There was a bit of turbulence along the way. Google, at one point, threatened to withdraw Google Search services in Australia. In response to that, the PM (then Prime Minister Scott Morrison) and I met with the global experts of Microsoft, who said they will be interested in expanding Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) in Australia. We didn’t hear much more of the threat (from Google),” he said.

Facebook also shut down pages of vital community services like the Australian police, ambulances and the Red Cross, a move that turned out to be a public relations mistake for the tech major, he said.

“In the face of that, we held firm and there was a strong political leadership from Josh Frydenberg (former Treasurer of Australia) and the legislation passed Parliament. I am pleased to say that both Google and Facebook have since negotiated commercial deals with news media businesses,” he said.

In an interview to The Indian Express Friday, Fletcher had said: “…Google and Facebook were very successful in attracting eyeballs, monetising that and generating digital advertising revenue. But as part of doing that, they were using content generated and paid for by news media businesses. As a consequence the revenues that support journalism were being eroded, which was reducing the amount of journalism and that was creating a negative feedback loop.”

Referring to Fletcher’s remarks, Chandrasekhar said: “His thinking is not very different from how we are approaching this issue, and we hope to, in the Digital India Act, address this issue of disproportionate control and the imbalance in the dynamics between content creation and content creators’ monetisation requirements – and the power that adtech companies and adtech platforms hold today.” Indian Express

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