Canadian publishers launch ad platform while Australian media battles renumeration with Big Tech

By L. Carol Christopher

INMA

Pleasant Hill, California, USA

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While many of us have been distracted by the pandemic and ecomonic crisis — not to mention digital subscriptions going through the roof and advertising going the opposite direction — lots has been going on in the area of digital platforms.

As part of INMA’s Digital Platforms Initiative, we think it’s time to get back to business of keeping our members informed on what’s happening worldwide on this subject. Here’s a look at recent developments:

Canadian news publishers launch advertising platform alternative

A group of news publishers has joined together to “offset the effects of the concentration of digital advertising in the hands of foreign-owned companies such as Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.,” according to a report by the Financial Post. The Maple Network Exchange is designed to be an alternative that will keep Canadian dollars in Canada.

The Maple Network Exchanged was created as an alternative to Google and Facebook (image courtesy of Maple Network Exchange).
The Maple Network Exchanged was created as an alternative to Google and Facebook (image courtesy of Maple Network Exchange).

The group includes Canadian news network Postmedia, as well as The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Facebook wasn’t available for comment, but its repayment for news content has been sometimes indirect rather than direct.

Publisher liability expanded to platform comments in Australia court decision 

Mike Cherney of The Wall Street Journal reports the highest court in Australia has decided “companies should be considered publishers of the comments” that appear on social media platforms in response to their content. Defendants in the original lawsuit, News Corp Australia as well as the publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, plan an appeal. The WSJ quotes them as saying: 

“Today’s decision means the media cannot share any story via Facebook without fear of being sued for comments which they did not publish and have no control over. It also creates the extraordinary situation where every public Facebook page — whether it is held by politicians, businesses, or courts — is now liable for third-party comments on those pages.” 

The media companies also commented that “the court’s ruling failed to acknowledge that Facebook doesn’t give media companies the ability to turn off comments,” although Facebook pages do “offer some ability to moderate content, including hiding and deleting comments.” 

In responding to the WSJ’s query, Facebook said it is “aware of the court’s decision” and “reviewing it carefully.” In 2018, Facebook declared itself a publisher to protect itself in a lawsuit, as reported by The Guardian. Facebook had previously declared it wasn’t.

Google, Australian publishers debate economic value of news 

Google, Facebook, and Australian news publishers are hotly debating the value of news. We’ll have details tomorrow on breaking news on the situation.

The Australian government asked its Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to prepare a mandatory code of conduct by July after it perceived that voluntary discussions on the value exchange of news were not progressing satisfactorily, according to PR Week.

One publisher values Australian news publisher contributions at roughly A$6 billion (US$3.9 billion) per year, but Google Australia Managing Director and Vice President Mel Silva says the value is much smaller, about A$10 million, and dismisses news publisher claims of significant contributions of “indirect value.” (This news analysis by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation asks how attractive Google, Facebook, and Apple would be without news publishers.) 

Under the ACCC’s decision, news publishers must be remunerated by the tech giants. How that remuneration will be distributed is a subject of equally vigorous debate that pits the needs of small and large publishers against each other, as reported here and here by The Sydney Morning Herald.

In other Australian news, News Corp’s Australian arm is taking many of its smaller publications to digital-only publication beginning June 29, saying it will do so because of broken “link[s] between local news and local advertising” and the ongoing failure of Google and Facebook to remunerate news publishers for use of content, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Malaysian news publisher calls for action in “war between publishers and platforms

Malaysia’s oldest newspaper, the New Straits Times, is taking heed of Australia’s battle cry in what it calls a “war” between platforms and publishers. This post calls on Malaysian publishers to take a first step by “help[ing] Australia lead a global force against big tech platforms such as Google and Facebook.”

The article cites as an example the efforts of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), saying “the Big Techs are too strong for any single country.” It further calls on government to pass a tax law “like France has done,” in tandem with the rest of the world.

U.S. presidential executive order responds to Twitter’s new fact-checking policies

Section 230, an amendment to the U. S. Communications Decency Act (1996) that holds “interactive computer services” not responsible for user postings and allows them to restrict access, is being revisited — again. It’s all laid out in this excellent read by Vox. 

Trump is going to battle with Twitter, issuing his Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship (photo courtesy of Twitter).
Trump is going to battle with Twitter, issuing his Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship (photo courtesy of Twitter).

In May, President Trump issued The Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship, about 48 hours after Twitter’s application of a new policy of flagging potentially false or misleading content to two of his Tweets, calling the actions “editorial decisions.”

The order specifically addresses civil liability protections, receipt of federal advertising dollars, and political bias by digital platforms. It calls for U.S. attorney general to develop “a proposal for federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.”

U.S. newspapers support act providing group rates for Big Tech

Last month, multiple U.S. newspapers published this cogent appeal by Dean Ridings, CEO of America’s Newspapers, for public support of passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act by the U.S. Congress in the face of legions of local newspaper closures. The act would allow newspaper publishers as a group to negotiate rates with Big Tech.

Two 2018 laws have already carved out an exception to Section 230 that makes the services responsible for third-party ads, pitting anti-pornography forces against Web sites that are driven by user comments. There have been additional attempts to require the services to be “neutral public platforms.” One, by a conservative lawmaker, would have declared the services to be publishers, removing Section 230 protections if they use algorithms to moderate user content without the user’s permission or knowledge.

U.S. news publishers offer differing views on Google’s contributions 

Different U.S. news publishers view the current interdependent dance between their companies and digital platform giants through different lenses. Google’s predominant support for publishers in return for use of their content has been indirect, e.g., Google News Initiative, rather than remunerative. 

Newsrooms differ on their views of Google (photo courtesy of The Seattle Times/William Brown/Op-Art).
Newsrooms differ on their views of Google (photo courtesy of The Seattle Times/William Brown/Op-Art).

Dean Miller, editor of The Seattle Times Save Free Press Initiative, talks in this piece with a veteran of The New York Times digital strategy team turned Google Subscription Lab leader who has guided one newsroom to “align its values with its business interests.” He compares experience and opinion from news media executives.

Google Search may have more to fear than ad tech or YouTube from legislation

Analysis by The Street explains why anti-trust legislation would have a greater impact on Alphabet’s Google Search than on its ad tech or YouTube businesses, based on the cost to acquire business (TAC, or traffic acquisition costs).

About L. Carol Christopher