Government Restates Commitment To Bringing Forward DMU Legislation

The government has restated their commitment to bringing forward the legislation for the Digital Markets Unit this legislative session, after peers continue to urge government to give the DMU the statutory powers it needs to level the playing field between platforms and publishers. This legislation includes pro-growth measures that would lower prices for small businesses and consumers and enhance growth and competition in the digital ecosystem.

In a debate yesterday on the Communications and Digital Committee’s report ‘Free for All? Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age’, Lord Kamall, parliamentary under-secretary for DCMS, said: “The Government remain committed to establishing a pro-competition regime to boost competition in digital markets. We want to introduce new, faster, more effective tools to address the unique barriers to competition in digital markets. The Government will set out their plans for the new regime in a draft Bill during this legislative Session.

“We are committed to defending media freedom and enhancing the sustainability of the press sector, and we hope that the pro-competition regime conduct requirements will improve transparency and allow large platforms to provide the businesses that rely on them with fair and reasonable terms. This will make an important contribution to the sustainability of the press.

“This regime presents just one aspect of the Government’s wider support for news publishers, and we will continue to consider all possible options in the interests of promoting and sustaining the sector.”

The NMA strongly welcomed a new report this week urging the government to publish a draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill that would help deter predatory practices by big tech firms “without delay.”

Committee chair Baroness Stowell voiced her support on urgently bringing the DMU legislation forward:

Viscount Culross called on government to “enact their pledges” and “give the DMU statutory powers so that it can tackle tech companies’ abuse of their dominant positions.” Viscount Culross also called for a mandatory bargaining code be set up to ensure fair negotiations between platforms and news publishers. He said: “Since 2010, over 265 regional newspapers in the UK have closed. Those that remain have seen their circulations collapse and this lost revenue is not being replaced by digital subscriptions. The industry faces an existential threat.

“The big hope is that it can be resurrected digitally, as 38 per cent of visits to news publishers’ websites came from links on Google or Facebook. However, at the moment the platforms get the content free or at very little cost, even though news content is one of the biggest drivers of traffic. The tech companies have made contracts with some newspaper publishers to pay for their content, but many say that the power imbalance is so great in the platforms’ favour that they are not being paid the true cost for using the content.”

Baroness Beeston emphasised the importance of tackling “the dominance and overwhelming power of the big tech firms by allowing much-needed competition to them.” She added further that “Chapter 4 of the committee’s report sets out most powerfully the case and urgent need for the Digital Markets Unit, which is part of the Competition and Markets Authority, to be put on a statutory footing and given ex-ante powers to intervene more effectively in these markets”.

Lord Vaizey also said: “I echo a lot of the points made already by people who are extremely well informed in this arena. First, on the point made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about the Digital Markets Unit, it is obviously very important that we update competition regulation”. 

In July, Rishi Sunak pledged to take forward in the autumn the vital legislation to give the Digital Markets Unit the teeth it needs to level the playing field between news publishers and the tech platforms, in response to a letter from NMA chief executive, Owen Meredith.