NMA CEO: It Is Time To Enact Legislation To Rebalance The Digital Economy Between Publishers And Platforms

We must legislate to fix the digital ecosystem, creating fair deals for news publishers and unleashing a thriving and competitive marketplace for all players, News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith said today at a Conservative Party conference event.

At an Institute of Economic Affairs Think Tent panel this afternoon a discussion was had covering the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and its effect on the digital markets, with contributions from a wide-ranging panel, including Media Minister Sir John Whittingdale and Conservative MP Matt Warman.

Others on the panel included the chair, Matthew Lesh, director of public policy and communications at the IEA, David Matthew, managing director, NERA Economic Consulting, and Matthew Sinclair, senior director, UK CCIA.

Speaking on the panel about digital markets, Owen said: “This is fundamentally a question of a broken economic system and market. There have been independent reports from the CMA and others that have demonstrated the tech market is not working. It is monopolistic. There are a few huge players who are abusing their power. That is not good for business. It is not good for consumers, and therefore it is not good for society. We must address this challenge and unleash the markets so they can work properly.

“What the Bill will do is give the regulator the tools to act in a way that is appropriate, that is checked and has balance, but is also able to act at speed. It has been the best part of 10 years since independent reports first recommended that the regulator needed these new powers.

“We cannot simply wait another 10 years for legislation to keep up. AI will accelerate the way the industry is changing, and without having appropriate and flexible tools as a regulator, I think we are all going to lose out.”

When asked about the news blackouts in Canada, Owen said: “There are two questions on this, one is economic, and one is societal.

“If you look at Ofcom’s News Consumption report, Facebook is the third highest stated platform for where people get their news. If we have a huge proportion of the British population going to Facebook for news, what do you want them to find? Do you want them to find articles from news publishers, who I represent, that are editorially controlled, that are subject to standards and that have complaint procedures that make them a professional journalistic outfit? Or do you want them to find misinformation and disinformation?

“On the economic argument, this is not a clean simple news payment bill, similar to what we have seen in Australia and Canada. It is an economy-wide intervention because the entire digital economy is broken. Repeated reports have said that. There is a dominance of a small number of players. There is not huge competition, with new players coming into the ad markets. The vast majority of money in online advertising flows into one or two players, predominantly Google.

“What we are seeing is a complete abuse of power because Google operates in the advertising market, on both the buy and sell side. That would not be allowed in any other economy. We need to fix it. We need to get on and pass the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill so that the regulators have the powers they need and to provide greater transparency of information so both parties can come to a fair commercial agreement.”

Sir John Whittingdale said: “I have long been a champion for professional journalism. It plays a vital part in the functioning of democracy, and it is under threat in a way that it has not been previously.

“Firstly, the explosion of content out there – which is not professionally sourced. Some of it is wild speculation, and some of it is more sinister. It is misinformation. It is disinformation. It is propaganda provided by hostile states. The best way to counter fake news is professional journalism. AI has escalated the challenges of professional journalism.

“Professional journalistic publications or broadcasts should be sustained. The challenges economically have grown – if you look at the way news is consumed, amongst all age groups, there is a growing shift to accessing news online and through social media. Particularly for younger age groups.

“Google and Facebook distribute news; they do not employ journalists. They are essentially feeding off the work of professional journalists. If they did not have access to professionally sourced news content, it might cost them around £1 billion in lost traffic.”

Speaking about the news sector, Matt Warman MP added: “The government has a role in ensuring it persists in this country. It would be unforgivable for the government to allow, either by the sin of omission or in an active way – particularly for local journalism but journalism more generally – to enter a position where it was fundamentally unsustainable.”

For further information please contact Laura Skerrett at laura@newsmediauk.org.