Protecting Indian media from predatory technology platforms – analysis
Silicon Valley has always preferred to portray itself not as a for-profit company, but as a populist crusader for freedom of expression. From invoking Martin Luther King, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did, in a speech defending his company’s strategy of allowing false political advertising in the United States, to framing catchy slogans like “Do No Evil” (Google ), technology Businesses have played an aggressive defense game to hold public opinion in their favor.
More recently, original advocates of free speech (traditional news publishers in Western democracies) have cheated on Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook about ad revenue and fake news propagated on these technology-enabled platforms. . These news editors accuse technology companies of two sins that threaten not only the news industry worldwide, but also democracy in India.
The first sin is playing a huge role in selling fake news. Rather than invest resources (proportional to their trillion-dollar valuations) to keep fake news off their platforms, most Silicon Valley companies pass the money on to users in the name of “freedom of expression.” Any attempt to get these companies to crack down on the fake news invites allegations of censorship. This fake news tsunami is undermining traditional media outlets in India, which, unlike Silicon Valley platforms, continue to risk prosecution for publishing speeches that violate Indian law. This means that, unlike technology companies, the news business must employ editors, reporters, and data verifiers to ensure that their news is authentic.
The second sin that these tech companies are often accused of is their tendency to profit from the work of others without paying them. No news aggregator, including Google and Facebook, generates any content of its own. The only way they can attract people to their platforms is by extracting content from others. While producing a video of a cat playing with a ball of yarn or making a viral meme is not expensive, news editors have a penny to pay journalists to collect, verify and publish news.
Once published, this news is shared on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, attracting more users to them. Google operates in a slightly different way. By adding links to the websites of almost every media in the world on its popular Google News platform, it offers users a one-stop-shop for finding news. In the process, both Google and Facebook collect heaps of users’ personal data, which then enables both companies to offer targeted advertising solutions for their customers on a scale that traditional media can’t even dream of. In the process, news publishers around the world are losing significant ad revenue for these giants.
As the fourth pillar of democracy, the media is one of the few industries whose financial health can affect the quality of a democracy. Around the world, two reform measures are being discussed to alter the biased equation between these tech companies and news publishers. The first reform measure aims to remove the “safe harbor” provisions in the law that provide Silicon Valley platforms legal immunity for content posted by others. This is one of the reasons why Facebook, WhatsApp or YouTube cannot be sued for defamation or hatred in most countries, despite taking advantage of the traffic that often draws such discourse to their platforms. Removing this immunity will create incentives for them to invest more in content moderation. As of now, progress on this front is slow.
The second reform measure, which has already gone into effect in Europe, and is being discussed in Australia and the United States, is giving news publishers the legal right to collect a royalty from Silicon Valley platforms every time the latter Show a link to a news report with a short snippet Accompanying this amendment is another measure that allows news publishers to create legal posters to bargain collectively with platforms, without being subject to scrutiny by competition regulators. There is no guarantee that this law will function as intended because it is based on Silicon Valley news publishers and companies reaching an agreement on royalties. In theory, companies like Google may exclude European news publishers from Google News. The company did this with Spanish news publishers a few years ago when Spain enacted a similar law. Such a refusal to deal with European news publishers may invite antitrust scrutiny from competition regulators, but that is a long and messy road.
So where does this leave the Indian news editors? Surprisingly, there is little public discussion on this important topic in India. Many of the legacy print news publishers are experimenting with payments and transitioning to a subscription-based model, but none of them are close to mastering the new business model. Even in the West only a few like The New York Times I have deciphered the digital model. It is not easy to convince Indians to buy subscriptions for content online that they are used to access for free.
With Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley companies munching on India’s traditional ad pie, India’s news industry is likely to lose revenue in the coming years as digital penetration increases at the expense of print revenue. At some point, news publishers will face a moment of reckoning. The weaker the financial health of the news industry, the less likely it is to spend on reports. Some level of political intervention may be required to strengthen the income of the Indian media. But any such intervention must be guided by empirical evidence based on Indian realities.
It would be a mistake for India to copy the policies of the European Union or Australia, regardless of the realities of its own news industry. The ball is now on the court of the Indian news publishers. They will have to present a case to convince public opinion of their need to protect against the behavior of SV platforms.
Prashant Reddy T is an intellectual property attorney and co-author of Create, Copy, Disrupt: India’s Intellectual Property Dilemmas.
The opinions expressed are personal.