Google, Facebook should treat media as partners

Google will be without the ‘G’ and Facebook will be more like an ‘Emptybook’ without media participation on their platforms


A FRENCH competition authority ruled last week that Google must pay France’s news providers and agencies for republishing content on the US tech firm’s search engine.

Unions representing French press publishers had filed a complaint with France’s competition authority.

“Google’s practices caused a serious and immediate harm to the press sector, while the economic situation of publishers and news agencies is otherwise fragile,” France’s Autorite de la Concurrence said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The regulator said Google’s practices “were likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant position, and caused serious and immediate harm to the press sector”.

The regulator also ordered the tech giant “within three months to conduct negotiations in good faith with publishers and news agencies on the remuneration for the re-use of their protected contents”.

Any remuneration agreed must be applied retroactively to October 2019 following rectification of a new European copyright law by France. Google said it would comply with the verdict and would engage media companies.

The European law demands news publishers to be compensated if their content is published on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

It was a landmark success for news publishers in France against tech giants like Google. For over the last decade, news agencies and media companies have been struggling despite the readership “of free content” continuing to rise.

Google, which does not produce any worthy content, has been devouring the web like a hyena for news articles based on certain “interesting” algorithms, listing the articles on its news page and fuelling traffic to its search platforms.

Just listing these articles from various sources allows Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, to register a net income of US$34.34 billion (RM147.66 billion) and total revenue of US$160.74 billion. Almost two-thirds or US$134.81 billion of Google’s revenue last year was from advertising.

Another US tech company, Facebook Inc, posted revenue of US$70.7 billion with net earnings of US$18.4 billion for 2019.

Facebook was dragged into a major data scandal after Cambridge Analytica harvested terabytes of people’s personal data from their Facebook profiles and used it for political advertising.

Tech experts had warned that many social media platforms would use algorithms which are more inclined to steer users towards hatred, rift and division — a logical way of creating continuous discussion. In chaos like in war, you will find the avenue to make money.

At the same time, media companies suffer. In comparison to these tech giants, The New York Times Co made US$68.2 million net profit and revenue of US$1.8 billion, despite having over 5.21 million digital and print subscribers and being deep-rooted in journalism excellence for 169 years.

Google is like a laughing hyena without having to scavenge the wilderness or dig up dead bodies — human or animal — from graves.

It would not be shocking if the combined profit of the whole world’s media and news companies still pale in comparison to Alphabet’s earnings.

Google has defended its practice, arguing that the search engine provided the avenues for news agencies to reach a larger base and higher traffic. The argument though is as daft as a brush.

Content creation — from the initial idea, sourcing for the news, verifying, writing, rewriting, editing and reediting, typesetting and publication — is expensive. Most media organisations are surviving by the skin of their teeth.

Even with the increase in traffic to their digital platforms and this utopia of digital advertising that will rise to US$517.5 billion by 2025, the portion that will end up in the books of media companies will be like a fart during a tornado.

Most of the digital advertising revenues will land in the hands of tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Newspaper editors and media owners have been complaining, but it ends up sounding more like Makcik Tipah’s whining after being omitted from financial aid.

Malaysia should push for a law requiring tech companies like Google that monetise media articles to pay for the content, like in France. Social media platforms like Facebook must ink separate enhanced agreements with local news providers for the latter’s “willingness” to be on its platform.

News agencies, most of which are based on journalism fundamentals, are not a few clowns short of a circus and should not be treated as such.

Google will be without the “G” without news content and Facebook will be more like an “Emptybook” without media participation on its platform. It is time tech companies stop treating media companies like mud races.

  • Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.