This is a battle we should have fought and won long ago. But now that the stakes have risen so high – with Facebook and the Australian government at war over the tech giant’s refusal to pay for news content – we must all throw our full support behind our democratic friends Down Under.
And we must step up our own efforts to end the bullying and curb the powers of Facebook and other social media giants.
For far too long these multi-billion-dollar companies (Facebook’s income last year was £61billion) have got away with fiscal murder.
Damian Collins (pictured) believed the UK must follow in the footsteps of Australia and Canada in making Facebook pay publishers for sharing news
Then when a government such as Australia’s rightly decides to take action, first Google threatens to withdraw its search engine and next Facebook has the nerve to block news content – an assault on freedom of speech and proof, if needed, that the behemoth’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, regards his organisation as a law unto itself.
He seems to believe that tax is for others to pay; appearing before a parliamentary committee is an indignity; accountability means nothing.
At a time when more and more people get their information from social media rather than bona fide news organisations – which in law are held to account and have to behave responsibly – Facebook is happy to help itself to content from newspapers and magazines and, in the process, take billions of dollars worth of advertising from those news organisations whose very existence is now under threat.
Facebook’s unofficial motto is to make money out of everything and pay for nothing.
That’s why I welcome yesterday’s announcement that Europe’s Press publishers and Microsoft have agreed to work together to make sure that content is paid for.
I also welcome the fact that Google has signed partnership deals with some publishers that will lead to the search engine paying for journalism – but what’s absolutely crucial is that any deals of this kind must be totally transparent, open to independent arbitration and not exclude other news organisations in the future.
The point is that the tech companies should pay a premium for premium journalism – but that is not in their DNA.
Instead, Facebook and others are out to destroy news organisations as we know them and, in turn, that amounts to an attack on our democracy.
Time and time again we have seen that Facebook cannot be trusted. While on the one hand it refuses to pay for well-sourced journalism, it is at the same time happy to allow filth to be seen and read on its platforms.
It is unable to regulate itself and has expanded so fast that no form of legislation has been able to keep up.
That’s why here in the UK we must push on with launching the new Digital Markets Unit within the Competition and Markets Authority, which hopefully will have real teeth, encourage genuine competition and promote consumer choice.
It is time the likes of Facebook were forced to give something back to those news organisations which they feed off for free and then use as bait for advertisers. They are nothing more than parasites – living off other people and making money while everyone else struggles.
During the pandemic it has been painful watching Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and others make vast amounts of money peddling false information while regional newspapers and other news organisations are facing ruin.
For far too long these multi-billion-dollar companies (Facebook’s income last year was £61billion) have got away with fiscal murder – pictured Mark Zuckerberg
They are abusing their market power because people and businesses can’t afford not to use them. What needs to happen is that, similar to the way YouTube pays artists when people listen to their music on its platform, Facebook and Google must be made to pay the providers of news – and the Australian government is absolutely right to bring forward legislation which will force them to do so.
Our democracy clearly is under threat. So how perverse it is that our former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg – now Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications – has nailed his colours to the mast of bullying?
We know what side he is on. It is the one which believes in closing down news feeds and allowing the proliferation of disinformation. We need to take decisive action now.
Damian Collins is a Tory MP and former chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee
Facebook must pay up, says Microsoft: US giant backs Australia-style laws to make tech firms pay
by Matt Oliver City Correspondent
Microsoft has backed demands for Australian-style laws in Europe that would force technology giants to pay for using journalism.
In a move that ratchets up pressure on its rivals Google and Facebook, the US giant revealed it was working with publishers to develop a system that ensured internet ‘gatekeepers’ paid for news featured on their platforms.
This will ‘take inspiration’ from the system being championed by Australia, which is forcing tech businesses to license content from news companies. Crucially, the Australian model includes a binding arbitration system to resolve disputes over what is a ‘fair price’ for news.
This means tech firms cannot just walk away if no agreement is reached – a measure that is vigorously opposed by Facebook and Google. Microsoft, which owns the Bing internet search engine, and European publishers argue it is essential to address a potential power imbalance between the ‘dominant’ internet giants and media organisations of all sizes. Microsoft’s joint announcement with publishers comes after Facebook banned Australian news content from its platform in anticipation of the new rules, prompting an international backlash.
The UK Government has expressed alarm over the decision, with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden set to meet Facebook chiefs to discuss the issue.
Yesterday Microsoft vice president Casper Klynge said: ‘Access to fresh, broad and deep Press coverage is critical to the success of our democracies.
‘Our commitment to preserving and promoting journalism isn’t new. In October 2020, we launched a new initiative to invest in and support local media and, through Microsoft News, we have been sharing a large portion of revenue with Press publishers. This initiative is a logical next step.’
Christian Van Thillo, chairman of the European Publishers Council, added: ‘We welcome Microsoft’s recognition of the value that our content brings to the core businesses of search engines and social networks because this is where Google and Facebook generate the vast majority of their revenues. It is crucial that our regulators recognise this key point. All publishers should get an agreement – no one should be left out.’
Fernando de Yarza, president of News Media Europe, added: ‘The experiences in France and Australia have shown us that there’s a real need for a binding instrument to address inherent imbalances in bargaining power with gatekeepers, which undermine the potential of Europe’s Press sector. We look forward to working with Microsoft and others on a solution that allows for a healthy and diverse online news media ecosystem.’
DMG Media, owner of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is a member of the European Publishers Council and News Media Europe. The UK Government is currently pressing ahead with plans to improve digital competition and ensure major players such as Google and Facebook ‘cannot exploit dominant market positions’.
Ministers have vowed to introduce a code of conduct that will ‘support the sustainability’ of the news industry.
Facebook has already struck licensing deals with UK news outlets, including the Mail, ahead of the proposed crackdown.