Payback time

| Updated on February 26, 2021

India should take the cue from Australia and France in making Google, Facebook pay for news

The Australian lawmakers’ landmark decision to make Google and Facebook pay for news content could balance the scales for publishers and pave the way for a global alliance among news organisations and policymakers. For too long, big tech companies have flourished and made billions of dollars by freely sharing news and research articles to their online users created by publishers who spend millions to generate them. This has created huge imbalances in the market wherein Google and Facebook walk away with all the advertisement revenue and the media organisations that create the content are left with practically nothing. Credible media companies spend money to hire journalists who generate content. Google and Facebook ride piggyback on this and make money by generating advertisements against this content. What’s worse, they also act as gatekeepers by consistently tweaking their algorithms to show news they want people to read. Their perverse business model, which has serious implications for the quality of content creation, is impacting newsrooms around the world, including in India. It needs to be appreciated that public interest journalism needs to be paid for, as it involves investment in human and logistical resources.

The Australian Parliament’s decision will effectively force these tech titans to pay for news content. This will ensure that news organisations in Australia are given a fair remuneration for the content they generate. Even though both Google and Facebook initially pushed back against the law, they have come around to cutting deals with publishers. This development should bring together global stakeholders, including India, to formulate rules of engagement between news organisations and big tech companies. The Indian government is already taking a number of measures to make Internet companies accountable for user-generated content and fake news. The next step should be to level the playing field between these big tech firms and news outlets. The Indian Newspaper Society, the umbrella body of news publishers in the country wrote to Google recently demanding that it compensate publishers for content taken from them.

To be fair, news organisations also gain when these platforms help get more readers. The problem is that the fruit is not equally shared. News organisations lack the clout or orientation to leverage their content. This lopsided business model needs to be set right through government intervention as in Australia now and in France earlier. India has a large internet base to leverage as it talks to these tech giants. There is no reason to believe that it cannot achieve what Australia and France have. It should move in coordination with other governments.

Published on February 26, 2021

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