Government officials in India, the world’s most populous democracy, are keeping hope alive for news media publishers that have complained about Google’s abuse of dominance in relation to news referral services and Google Adtech Services, as INMA reported in February.
Currently, the country’s news media companies in the middle of a third probe into the topic.
The day after the latest probe was reported, Kate Beddoe, director of Google’s News Partnerships in APAC [Asia-Pacific], was widely reported as saying: “We are committed to responding to the needs of Indian publishers in India in a way that works. I think when you have government involved, it becomes more challenging to recognise and respond to those nuances.”
According to The Indian Express, Beddoe “worked very closely on the news media bargaining code where the government did get into the middle’ in Australia, [and] said Google learned some ‘very valuable lessons as to why you want to be listening and why we need to be a good partner, responding to the needs of the industry.’”
And in a recently updated but undated blog post, How Google supports the news industry, there was this: “Our products are built to provide relevant and useful information, ensuring that people around the world are able to find quality news. We’ve worked closely with the news industry in India for years, helping publishers grow their businesses through ads and subscription services and increase audiences by driving valuable traffic to their sites. We are cooperating with the investigation and we look forward to explaining how we work with publishers, businesses, and consumers.”
The Economic Times reported NL Rajah, advocate at the Madras High Court, said that in the face of international precedent, India is unlikely to be far behind: “Cross border IP [intellectual property] protection is going to become a norm in the future… . Eventually we will have to fall in line with global trends. How quickly or how late it will happen depends on the process of integration of cross border IP protection regime.”
The Economic Times also noted that “cross-border IP protection facilitation tools promote a balance between national sovereignty-based policy provisions and non-discrimination against foreign applicants.”
Gupta, general secretary of the DNPA, told BestMediaInfo: “All we have repeatedly asked for is transparency and fair share. On one hand, credible news sources globally are facing a survival battle due to lack of financial resources, and on the other hand, on back of traffic generated due to this content, tech giants continue to prosper.
“Can this happen if there is a fair and transparent system in place? There has to be some fundamental flaw in a system where amongst two equal contributing partners, one continues to exponentially prosper and other fights the survival battle. The financial data, traffic, and global health of digital publishing ecosystem is a good enough indicator of the reality.”
She continued: “One thing we all should understand that this matter is not about a particular body or publisher but will determine the future landscape for the position of fourth pillar of the democracy.”
Here is the background that led the Indian media industry to this point:
February 2021: INS sends letter to Google
The Indian Newspaper Society (INS), an organisation of newspaper, magazine, and periodical publishers, complained in February 2021 directly to Google in a letter pointing to the profits it reaps on original content, India Today reported, noting Google has agreed to better compensation for publishers in France, Australia, and elsewhere.
The INS also “insisted” Google “increase the publisher share of advertising revenue to 85% and also ensure transparency in revenue reports provided by it,” according to livemint. “Content generated and published by newspapers at the considerable expense is proprietary,” said businesstoday of the INS statement.
May 2021: Google launches News Showcase
In May, 2021, Google launched its News Showcase in India, with 30 sealed agreements with Indian publishers to offer access to some of their content, reported bestmediainfo.
December 2021: Indian government rejects idea of remuneration
Importantly, the India Today article reported that in December 2021 — 10 months later — the Indian government said “it had no plans to make tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, pay local publishers for news content.”
That position changed in short order.
January 2022: The government shifts its position
The Digital News Publishers’ Association (DPNA), which describes itself as “a group of leading media organisations involved in working towards a prosperous digital news ecosystem,” complained to the Competition Commission of India, alleging that more than 50% of total traffic on the Web sites of news outlets is routed through Google, which, by way of its algorithms, determines the news sites that will be discovered on the platform.
In response, on January 7, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) instructed its director general to conduct an investigation within 60 days, saying: “In a well-functioning democracy, the critical role played by news media cannot be undermined, and it needs to be ensured that digital gatekeeper firms do not abuse their dominant position to harm the competitive process of determining a fair distribution of revenue amongst all stakeholders. Therefore, the alleged conduct of Google appears to be an imposition of unfair conditions and price, which, prima facie, is a violation of Section 4(2)(a) of the [2002 Competition] Act.”
March 2022: A second probe
News reports were scarce to non-existent between January and late March — about 60 days after the CCI mandated the investigation and report. Suddenly, a flurry of news stories covered a statement from the CCI, which said it had “clubbed,” or conjoined, a new complaint from the INS with the earlier complaint of the DNPA because both require a detailed investigation by the director general, according to The Sunday Standard.
As with the complaint of the DNPA, the CCI found that prima facie, the INS allegations of abuse of dominant position are under the purview of the Competition Act 2002.
BestMediaIno reported DNPA’s Gupta as saying: “It is a natural course of action being taken. We welcome INS and all other Indian and global publishers to get aligned to this cause and work for the progress of credible journalism.”
She continued: “There is definite merit in the case and we have full faith in the judicial framework. It is a global issue and, in many case, a precedent is set. Australia, France, Canada, U.S. are some of the successful examples. We are confident about a favourable outcome. The voices everywhere itself showcases the gravity of the matter. The world is getting united to protect freedom and growth of journalism, which is a very healthy sign. Once there is enough awareness about the issue and its implication, favourable outcomes will follow from all corners. CCI is one such milestone but not the ultimate destination.”
July 2022: An election and a notable quote
Then another flurry.
In July, around the time of some major election-related shifts, the tech entrepreneur and new Minister of State for IT and Electronics Rajeev Chandrasekhar said to The Times of India in a widely republished quote: “The market power on digital advertising that is currently being exercised by the Big Tech majors, which places Indian media companies at a position of disadvantage, is an issue that is seriously being examined in the context of news legislation and rules… . The news publishers have no negotiation leverage at all, and this needs to be tackled legislatively. This is an important issue for us.”
Chandrasekhar also noted in the interview that “the move is being mooted through regulatory interventions, which may happen as part of revisions to the existing IT laws.”
September 2022: Sharing secrets
Following that, in September, the CCI asked the INS to “share the details of the agreement between its members and Google for sharing advertising revenue,” according to BestMediaInfo. Consequently, the article reported, the INS wrote to its member publications asking for the same, though not compelling them to do so. The watchdog also asked for information about grievances members might have regarding the issue.
This month: A third probe
Most recently, on October 7, the CCI released a four-page order for a third complaint to be clubbed — that of the New Delhi-based News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA), with about 25 members including media conglomerates such as Network 18, NDTV, and TV Today Network, said inc42. They are national and regional private news, and current affairs broadcasters and digital news media entities.
According to TheHinduBusinessOnline, the CCI noted in its order: “The investigation by the DG would be able to examine the issues in a comprehensive manner by giving an opportunity to all concerned to present their case.”
The broadcaster association alleged, said Inc42, that Google:
- Has an “unfair revenue sharing agreement with digital news portals” that forces them to “provide their news content to Google to rank higher on Google search pages.”
- “Free rides on the content of its members without giving them adequate compensation.”
- “Exploits its near-total monopoly in the search engine space to build services such as Google News, Google Discover, and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages.”
The Hindu elaborated on the NBDA statement, which also alleges:
- Its “members of the association have no negotiating or bargaining power while entering into any agreement with Google, as Google’s search engine owns 94% market share in the country,” and that Google dictates terms and conditions of the Terms of Service of the Agreement, “which unilaterally favour Google.”
- Google uses AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to subvert revenues of the NBDA members by preventing them from forming a direct relationship with the user, as the readers/users spend more time on Google’s site, seeing Google’s advertisement as opposed to any paid advertising on the content provider’s site.”
And according to the Hindustan Times, the NBDA also stated in its complaint that “the manner in which Google operates results in discouraging technical or scientific develo0pment relating to goods or services, which causes prejudice to the consumers, violates privacy of users and the intellectual property rights of its members.”