Media v tech giants: Minister urges Google, Facebook to come to negotiating table

Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi has encouraged Google and Facebook to engage with media entities to reach “equitable arrangements” for content usage.

His comments follow on from this week’s application by news publishers to the Commerce Commission for approval to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google to seek fair payment for Kiwi journalism used on their digital platforms.

This essentially means the organisations are setting aside their differences to make a unified call for payment for the use of their content by the tech giants.

The joint negotiation will help to ensure that all the publishers involved get a fair opportunity to attain some funding.

“News media content is valuable, and I support appropriate commercial arrangements which will allow New Zealand news media operations to be sustainable in order to inform their local communities,” Faafoi said today.

“I continue to encourage Facebook and Google to engage with New Zealand media entities to reach meaningful, fair and equitable arrangements for content usage.”

Faafoi would not comment directly on the application, saying: “It is for the Commerce Commission to decide whether to approve the News Publishers Association application to negotiate collectively.”

This comes off the back of a groundbreaking deal in Australia, which saw both Google and Facebook agree to pay publishers for content.

The circumstances across the Tasman were, however, slightly different given that Australian lawmakers had enacted legislation, the News Media Bargaining Code, which encourages tech giants and news organisations to negotiate payment deals between themselves.

An independent arbitrator will step in to set a fair price in the event that the negotiations fail.

Negotiations may well happen here, but New Zealand publishers aren’t backed by any legislative measures to force an agreement.

Faafoi has so far taken a hands-off approach, preferring to allow the various parties to negotiate independently.

Without the backing of legislation, local news companies are looking to add to the global pressure growing on tech giants to pay for news.

The deal signed between Australian media companies and Google comes from the Google News Showcase, a global commitment of US$1 billion (NZ$1.46b) over three years to “the long-term vibrancy of public interest news and quality journalism.”

Google New Zealand country director Caroline Rainsford told the Herald the company is currently working to bring this to New Zealand.

“As such, we’ve kicked off commercial discussions with a number of news publishers,” Rainsford said.

“In parallel, we’re also planning other ways we’ll continue to support the local news industry, in addition to our existing contributions – such as training for journalists and Stuff’s The Whole Truth Project.”

Under the Google News Showcase fund, the tech company has struck deals with more than 1000 news organisations around the world.

It’s likely that New Zealand publishers will also see some contribution from this fund in the coming year.

A billion-dollar commitment over three years is certainly large, but to put this into context, Google generated US$147b ($214b) in global revenue last year – most of which came from the sale of digital ads.

Andrew Hunter, the head of news partnerships for Meta (formerly Facebook) Australia and New Zealand, also said the company was committed to finding ways to support and promote quality journalism.

However, he said local publishers have a choice in the matter.

“Many publishers choose to put content on our platforms because this gives their work a larger audience, enables them to effectively monetise their content on our services and drive people back to their dedicated news websites,” he said.

Over the years, we have seen some publishers and companies pull their content from Facebook in response to various controversies, but they often return to the platform.

Hunter went on to say Facebook is already making some contributions to the New Zealand news ecosystem.

“We recently announced investments to encourage innovation and collaboration between platforms and publishers,” he said.

“We will continue building free opt-in products, making investments and developing partnerships to further support publishers.”

Meta recently launched local investment aimed at supporting local publishers to develop sustainable business models, establishing a Meta Aotearoa News Innovation Advisory Group, investing in video and content innovation with Kiwi publishers and training for Kiwi publishers on growing digital audiences.

While helpful for news companies that don’t quite understand the intricacies of digital publishing, these steps fall well short of ongoing commitment to pay for news content.

Meta and Google were both combative in Australia when it came to the issue of paying for news, threatening to pull their services.

In February this year, Meta followed through banning publishers and people in Australia from reading or sharing news content on its platform.

Only a few days later, the company backtracked on this measure and reinstated news content on the platform.

Given the massive public relations fallout from this move, it seems unlikely that Facebook will take similar steps in this market.

For now, it remains to be seen how much these tech giants will be willing to put toward news in the local market.

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