In a boost to the news publishing industry, the Centre appointed 10-member inter-ministerial panel, tasked to recommend a draft Digital Competition Act, has invited senior representatives of news publishers for in-person consultations.

Senior representatives of Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and Newspapers Association of India are likely to make presentations before the Committee on Digital Competition Law in the first week of March, sources said.

News publishers expressed satisfaction about the latest MCA move to undertake consultations with them. However, it would have been much better if one of their representatives had been Co-opted into the Committee, they noted.

Also read: News publishers feel left out from panel on drafting Digital Competition law, demand their inclusion for right perspective

This latest inter-ministerial Panel move comes on the heels of the first ever meeting of this Committee last Wednesday, they added. 

News publishers have —ever since the Panel was formed on February 6–been irked about the lack of their representation in the Digital Competition Law Committee. They contended that it would be good if all stakeholders, including digital news publishers and digital media, are included in the Digital Competition Law Committee so that voice of industry is very well represented.

News publishers also felt that the Panel is overloaded with representatives of corporate law firms that have, either in the past or presently, been advising the Big Tech companies, such as Meta, WhatsApp, Google, and Amazon. There is gross conflict of interest in the composition of the panel, they alleged.

Fight for survival

Digital news publishers are fighting for their survival as big tech companies are monetising the content generated by news publishers by way of advertising revenues, leaving publishers high and dry. 

Digital news publishers want to get a “fair share” of the digital advertising revenues earned by big tech platforms from the content being monetised by them.

However, there is now complete information asymmetry and news publishers have no way to ascertain the advertising revenue earned by big tech through the usage of their news content, according to publishers. 

To address this information asymmetry, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance had in its report on “Anti-competitive Practices by Big Tech” recommended enacting of Digital Competition Act.

The House Panel had in its report called for “regulatory provisions” to ensure that news publishers get a “fair share” of the digital advertising revenues earned by big tech platforms from the content being monetised by them.

Also read: Domestic start-ups seek inclusion in panel drafting Digital Competition Act

Regulatory provisions are required to ensure that news publishers are able to establish contracts with Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDIs) through a fair and transparent process, the Standing Committee had recommended.

In this context, it recommended that gatekeeper platforms should provide publishers with access to the performance measuring tools of the gatekeeper and the data necessary for publishers to carry out their own independent verification of the advertisements inventory, including aggregated and non-aggregated data.

Now, it remains to be seen how this Committee on Digital Competition law will look at the recommendations of the Standing Committee and whether it would go in for legislative changes on the lines of the New Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code enacted in Australia, Competition law experts said.

The Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) had, on February 6, constituted a 10-member inter-ministerial committee to examine the need for a separate law on competition in digital markets. The panel has been among other things tasked to prepare a draft Digital Competition Act and submit report in three months. 

The Committee on Digital Competition Act’s terms of reference include a review as to whether existing provisions of the Competition Act 2002 and the rules and regulations framed thereunder are sufficient to deal with the challenges that have emerged from the digital economy and to examine the need for an ex-ante regulatory mechanism for digital markets through separate legislation.