Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

Facebook "unfriends" Australian news, Google refuses to "follow"; Experts say 'Big Tech' must support journalism

Jayant Mammen Mathew of Malayala Manorama , India Express' Sanjay Sindhwani and Porush Jain of Sportskeeda shared their views on the recent developments in Australia.

"Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing," this is what Australian Prime Minister Scot Morrison posted on Facebook, after Mark Zuckerberg owned social networking giant announced its stand on paying publishers in Australia.

For most of 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been in discussion with the 'Big Tech' giants - Google and Facebook. The country's top competition authority has spent more than a year drafting a bill for the country's parliament.

The bill is likely to get passed next week or the week after. The legislature mandates both Google and Facebook to crack a deal with the publishers and compensate the dotcoms whenever the links are shared by users.

Google and Facebook have both gone on record to voice their views against the bill. Google threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia while Facebook said it would restrict the usage of news links on the platform.

The latter took a 'U'' turn and decided to go by what the government suggested, while the former, as explained by the Prime Minister, decided to 'unfriend' Australian publishers.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content," stated William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand.

In an official statement shared globally, Easton added "It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter."

Prime Minister Morrison made it clear that the Australian Government, will not be 'intimidated' by BigTech companies seeking to "pressure" Parliament as it votes on our important 'News Media Bargaining Code'.

"These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies; who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it," The Prime Minister posted on Facebook.

Google, on the other hand, has inked a deal with the largest publisher in Australia, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. What the Murdochs called a "historic multi-year-partnership", Google will pay the publisher for its content.

According to the statement released by Murdoch's News Corp - some of news corp's publications which will be joining Google News Showcase. These include The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and the New York Post; in the UK: The Times and The Sunday Times, and The Sun; and in Australia a range of news platforms, including The Australian, news.com.au, Sky News, and multiple metropolitan and local titles.

Robert Thomson, Chief Executive of News Corp said, the partnership, "Will yield substantial benefits for journalism and society." He added that the deal would have a positive impact on journalism around the globe "As we have firmly established that there should be a premium for premium journalism."

The Facebook boss of Australia and New Zealand, Easton commented on Google's stance too. "We understand many will ask why the platforms may respond differently. The answer is because our platforms have a fundamentally different relationships with news. Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue."

He added, "Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million. For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4 per cent of the content people see in their News Feed. Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences."

More than Rs 17,000 crore of advertising money is spent on digital media. According to experts, Google and Facebook, take away 85 per cent of that pie. For the last 12 months, the publishers, have been arguing with Google and Facebook that the platforms must compensate for quality journalism that gets them the users who stay on the platforms and do other things apart from reading news as well.

Indian publishers are keeping a close watch on the developments in Australia and this is what Jayant Mammen Mathew, executive editor and director of Malayala Manorama, Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO, Indian Express Online and Porush Jain, founder and CEO, Sportskeeda had to say.

Edited Excerpts:

Jayant Mammen Mathew
Jayant Mammen Mathew

Jayant Mammen Mathew, executive editor and director of Malayala Manorama  

It's a good thing that the publishers and Google are arriving at an agreement. It's good for the entire industry and the very fact that Google is engaging with the publishers is a very positive sign. We hope that Google and publishers will arrive at similar agreements across the world including India. It is good for journalism.

Sanjay Sindhwani
Sanjay Sindhwani

Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO, Indian Express Online

I think it's an important recognition from regulators that journalism is important for democracy and that big tech -- which has benefited and grown on the backs of news content --  has a responsibility to support the news industry and Pay for the content that it uses on its platforms.

Porush Jain
Porush Jain

Porush Jain, Founder and CEO, Sportskeeda

The new Australian law is an anti-monopoly ruling since it singles out Facebook and Google. I am divided as I feel they hold this monopoly position because of their competence and product quality rather than any unfair practices.

I definitely don't think this is the way forward. I believe in free-market practices and simpler rules. Media companies should decide themselves if they want to charge Google/Facebook or not.