News publishing industry is irked over lack of their representation in the 16-member Committee recently formed by the Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) for drafting a Digital Competition Act. 

What has miffed the digital news publishers even more is that the panel that has been constituted is dominated by top corporate law firms that have been representing and advising big tech companies in various inquiries initiated by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

They are, however, hopeful that MCA would see reason and include them in the committee in coming days to get the right perspective of the digital news publishing industry.

Legal battles against Big Tech companies

Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), News Broadcasters & Digital Association and The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) have been fighting legal battles against Big Tech companies before competition watchdog to seek part of advertising revenues generated by gatekeeper platforms through scraping of content generated by reporters on the ground.

Sujata Gupta, Secretary General, Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), said: “Though we have not heard anything from Ministry of Corporate Affairs so far, there is no doubt that sooner or later that they would include representatives of news publishers DNPA. 

“They must include news publishers. Without the involvement of news publishers in the committee, it would not be feasible for anyone to arrive at correct perspective”.

She also highlighted these are early days and DNPA is confident that MCA would include the Association and its members in the scheme of things in an adequate and fair manner. 

Jayant Mammen Mathew, Head of Digital Committee at Indian Newspaper Society (INS) and Executive Editor, Malayala Manorama, said: ”It will be good if all stakeholders including digital media are included in the committee so that the voice of industry is very well represented”.

Panel members

it maybe recalled that the MCA-appointed panel is headed by Secretary, MCA and comprises eight other members, out of which a predominant four are from top notch corporate law firms who have been advising big tech companies in investigations ordered by CCI. 

The other members include Aditya Bhattacharjea, Professor of Economics (retd), Delhi School of Economics, Harsha Vardhana Singh of IKDHVAJ Advisers LLP - international trade, policy strategic advisory services provider and Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman of Indian Angel Network. Joint Secretary in MCA has been designated as Member Secretary to the panel. 

The 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 the publishers high and dry. There is complete information asymmetry, and the news publishers have no way to ascertain the advertising revenue earned by big tech through usage of their news content. 

‘To address this information asymmetry, the Parliamentary Committee recommended drafting Digital Competition Act and now the representatives of big tech would be drafting the law to regulate big tech! There is nil participation from the publishing industry”, rued a representative of newspaper association.

“It is indeed bizarre that the Panel is overloaded with representatives of corporate law firms which 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”.

The MCA Committee was set up pursuant to recommendations made by House Panel which examined ‘Anticompetitive practices by Big Tech Companies’. 

In one of a very key recommendation, the House Panel observed that India has diverse and numerous news publishers who get advertising revenues primarily through Systemically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDIs). “Regulatory provisions are required to ensure that news publishers are able to establish contracts with these SIDIs through a fair and transparent process”, noted the Report 

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.

An email sent to the Corporate Affairs Ministry remained unanswered.