After Australia and Facebook conflict, now Australian Government has reached out to India among several countries, including Canada, France and the United Kingdom, in a move to stitch a global coalition against tech giants Google and Facebook amid a faceoff over compensation for sharing news content from media companies on their platforms.

Background

  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in its report published in 2019, Digital Platforms Inquiry, noted that there was a fundamental imbalance in the power between news media and internet platforms.
    • Specifically mentioning both tech giant, the report said these platforms had “substantial bargaining power in relation to many news media businesses.”
    • It highlighted that media regulation hardly applied to platforms, though they have been increasingly playing much the same role as the media. The last 20 years have also seen the tremendous rise of the platforms and sharp decline of the traditional news media.
    • Australian government, reportedly sensing how important it was to have a strong and independent media environment in a democracy, asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to come up with a draft code, which it did in July 2020.
    • After some changes, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill was introduced in December 2020.
  • Media Platform Bill by Australia
    • Payment to News Outlets: Big tech and social media giants will have to pay local news outlets for using their content.
      • Big Tech firms will have to negotiate how much they pay local publishers and broadcasters for content that appears on their platforms.
    • Provision of Arbitration and Fine: An arbiter is mandated to adjudicate if no agreement is reached and there are also provisions of heavy fines if agreements are not done.
  • Issue
    • The Australian media industry is already benefiting from traffic routed to them by the digital platforms, and that the proposed rules would expose the Internet companies to “unmanageable levels of financial and operational risk”.
    • Journalism is a public good and a pillar of democracy. Digital platforms piggyback on its content without sharing the associated costs. The subsequent diversion of advertising revenue has undermined traditional media, particularly regional newspapers.
    • Paying for news feed in itself appears to be less of an issue for the tech giants, given that Google agreed to pay news publications in France.
      • Tech giant Google signed a deal with a group of French publishers to make digital copyright payments for online news content.
    • The fight in Australia is in fact, centred on how much control these companies would be able to retain on their payout process – operational aspects such as deciding the quantum of payments for news feed sources, and having to reveal changes in their algorithms.
      • France has specifically linked payments to copyright, without putting a forcing device into the agreements.
      • On the other hand, Australia’s code is almost entirely focused on the bargaining power of news outlets vis-à-vis the tech majors, and has some coercive features as well.
  • Case of India
    • The Policymakers have so far focused on the dominance of intermediaries such as Google and Facebook, which are positioned in a way that service providers cannot reach customers except through these platforms.
    • A substantial discussion on the impact of intermediary platforms on the health of news media outlets is yet to begin in any meaningful way.
    • According to a FICCI-EY report for 2020, there are 300 million users of online news sites, portals and aggregators in the country.
      • It makes up approximately 46 per cent of Internet users and 77 per cent of smartphone users in India at the end of the year 2019.
      • With 282 million unique visitors, India is the second largest online news consuming nation after China.
    • In India, digital advertising spends in 2019 grew 24 per cent year-on-year to Rupees 27,900 crore, according to EY estimates, and are expected to grow to Rupees 51,340 crore by 2022.
    • In India, the news aggregators are not mandated to make payments to publishers.
      • News aggregator is an online platform or a software device that collects news stories and other information as that information is published and organizes the information in a specific manner.

Ahead

  • India presents a unique media market which reflects the country’s diversity. For example, media platforms span multiple languages. Therefore, while the Australian development is of special importance to India, it need not provide an ideal template for the way forward.
  • Digital platforms have brought about huge social gains by democratising access. However, their growing size and revenue models have also had adverse effects, such as spread of fake news. It is this fallout that governments should try to mitigate, to safeguard democracy.

Australia Media Platform Bill to regulate Australia Media Platform Bill to regulate