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Lords call for digital platforms to pay for news content

Posted on: November 27, 2020 by Ian Murray

A House of Lords committee has called on the government to force digital platforms to pay news publishers for the right to use content.

The report by the Lords’ Communications and Digital Committee proposes the introduction of regulations similar to those being introduced in Australia which would allow news publishers to ‘negotiate collectively’ with Facebook and Google.

If the two parties could not reach a deal then an ‘independent arbitrator’ would choose which final offer is most fair.

The Lord’s Breaking News? The Future Of UK Journalism report said: “There is a fundamental imbalance of power between news publishers and platforms.

“Due to their dominant market position, Facebook and Google can stipulate the terms on which they use publishers’ content.

“This includes whether and how much they pay for news appearing on their platform, which news sources their algorithms rank most highly and how much notice they give publishers of changes to these algorithms.”

“Algorithms are a product of the human value judgments of their designers, but there is a lack of transparency about them and designers’ possible biases. We will examine this issue further in our next inquiry, on freedom of expression online.”

The Lords called for the government to use the upcoming Online Harms Bill to legislate for a mandatory news bargaining code.

“Once it is set up, the Digital Markets Unit should take on responsibility for this and keep under review publishers’ concerns about the ways in which platforms use their content.

“The Government and regulators should work closely with international partners on this issue.”

Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chairman of the Communications and Digital Committee said: “Online advertising is crucial to news publishers’ success, but there’s a fundamental imbalance of pow-er between them and platforms such as Facebook and Google whose overwhelming market dominance means they dictate the terms on which they use publishers’ content, including whether and how much they pay for it.’

Responding to the report, a Facebook spokesperson told the Society of Editors: “We remain committed to working with our UK industry partners to find ways to support journalism and help the long-term sustainability of news organisations. 

“Quality journalism is vital to society and we endeavour to be a part of the innovation the sector needs to thrive digitally. Many publishers choose to put content on our platforms because this gives their work a larger audience. 

“We will continue building free products, making global investments and developing partnerships to support them.” 

In August, Facebook announced it was accelerating plans to expand Facebook News – a dedicated location to find national and local news – to more locations internationally, including the UK.

Ronan Harris, vice president, Google UK & Ireland commented: “Online tools have proved to be a lifeline during the pandemic and they can help create a digital, sustainable and inclusive recovery. We support an approach that benefits people, businesses and society.”