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Hold Facebook and Google to account | HT Editorial – Editorials


On Monday, Australia announced that it will now force tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay news companies for content use. This, the government said, was intended to guarantee a “level playing field,” and came after an 18-month investigation into the power of these digital platforms by the country’s competition and consumer commission. Earlier this month, France’s top competition authority asked Google to negotiate with media companies, both publishers and agencies, to use snippets in its search engine and news aggregator and pay them adequate compensation.

Both Australia and France are right. For far too long, there has been an unfair ecosystem that has been built around the digital news landscape. Media organizations invest huge resources: staff, editorial control, overhead, and distribution. Large digital intermediaries like Facebook and Google take your content and send it to their platforms. But operating under ambiguous regimes, they pretend not to be media companies. This means that they do not have the legal responsibility that media organizations have, nor do they incur the same levels of spending. But they monopolize the income that is transmitted to the world of digital news. This has made several genuine media organizations unfeasible, reducing their profitability, forcing them to scale back or even shut down. This, in turn, affects not only private companies but also damages democracy and the right of citizens to be informed.

This crisis has been further exacerbated given the economic slowdown after the coronavirus pandemic. India is neither immune to trends in the digital news world nor to the slowdown. Media companies now face additional challenges. For traditional print platforms, circulation has been reduced due to unfounded fears about the possibility of the infection spreading through the newspapers. Revenue is affected due to reduced advertising spending by private companies and the government. In this context, it is time for the government to establish clearer rules for intermediaries. It is time to make Facebook and Google comply with their legal obligations; not surprisingly, there is a proliferation of fake news on some of these platforms in the absence of stricter liability rules. It’s also time to make them pay their fair share of compensation to those platforms whose content they use and leverage to build their own audiences and profits. India must carefully consider other global examples and end the reckless and unfair business practices adopted by digital intermediaries. In fact, it is time for a level playing field, not only to help the media, but also to preserve democracy and maintain the news gathering mechanisms that are so essential to keeping citizens informed.

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