Government plan to make digital platforms pay for news receives mixed reactions

Following the Government’s announcement that it will introduce legislation requiring global digital platforms to pay for Kiwi journalism published on their platforms, Google and media organisations such as Stuff and NZME have expressed support, while Meta has revealed concerns.

The Government has announced it is gearing up to introduce legislation requiring large online digital companies such as Google and Meta to pay local media companies for news content created shared on their platforms.

This legislation will be modelled on similar laws in Australia and Canada and aims to motivate the digital platforms to reach fair voluntary deals with local news outlets.

Minister of Broadcasting Willie Jackson says as it costs money to produce news it is only air these large digital platforms pay for it.

“New Zealand news media, particularly small regional and community newspapers, are struggling to remain financially viable as more advertising moves online. So, it is critical that those benefiting from their news content pay for it.

“If an agreement between New Zealand news media and global digital platforms cannot be reached, the legislation sets out processes for negotiations and mandatory bargaining.”

Earlier this year, NZME reached its own independent agreements with both Google and Meta and is set to review the proposed legislation when available to determine if there will be any changes to the current agreements.

Michael Boggs, NZME Chief Executive Officer, says he is pleased the news organisation reached its own agreements this year as it gave them certainty and meant the content already being published was generating a return when republished on Google and Facebook.

“We are supportive of the Government legislating as it ensures the future sustainability of our local news media and contributes to a healthy media ecosystem. We look forward to continuing our constructive engagement on the matter,” he says. 

Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher says she is pleased the government is recognising the power imbalance between publishers and the platforms.

 “For too long the platforms have been able to use journalism made and paid for by publishers to help build businesses of near unimaginable scale and power. Off the back of content invested in and created by others, they have been able to capture the vast majority of the digital advertising market, undermining the sustainability of local publishers and local journalism.

“Globally, we’ve seen that without legislation the platforms are extremely reticent to make any kind of meaningful offer. That has certainly been the experience here in Aotearoa, despite the Commerce Commission granting permission for the news publishing industry to negotiate as a collective to help address the power imbalance.

“To date, offers put forward have been insignificant compared to the deals secured by Australian and Canadian publishers who have world-leading legislation in their camp.

“We want a deal for the whole industry – publishers large and small – that represents a fair exchange for the value the platforms get out of using our content to allow us to keep investing and developing high quality New Zealand journalism.

“We look forward to seeing the shape of the legislation when it is introduced,” says Boucher.

Meta says the announcement assumes that the platform unfairly benefits from republishing news when it is the opposite and publishers benefit from having their content shared on Meta’s services.

According to statistics released from Meta the platform estimates that in the last year it has generated around 390 million clicks to registered New Zealand publishers which amounts to additional traffic worth more than NZ $33 million.

Mia Garlick, Regional Policy Director for Meta, says the proposal “fundamentally misunderstands” Facebook’s relationship with news. 

Publishers are the ones who control whether and how their content appears on Facebook and receive significant value from sharing it. It also fails to recognise our current commercial deals in New Zealand or Government’s own independent advice that news legislation won’t solve the longstanding digital transformation challenges facing the news industry. We are concerned about the unintended impacts future legislation will have on innovation in both the media and broader tech sector, in particular for smaller entrepreneurial publishers including Māori, regional, digital first and diverse media.” 

So far, Meta has signed commercial deals with The Spinoff, Newsroom and NZME and were in discussion with other media organisations.

Google said in a statement that it did not oppose the authorisation by the NZ Commerce Commission for the news media to bargain collectively and has been actively engaged with the News Publishers Association.

The technology company revealed it has already signed agreements with 23 local news publications including NZME titles such as NZ Herald, Northern Advocate, Whanganui Chronical as well as RNZ, BusinessDesk, Scoop, Crux, Newsroom, Pacific Media Network, SunLive and Times Online and says it is “proud that this group of publishers and their respective mastheads represent a broad mix of audiences, from metropolitan to smaller, regional and ethnically diverse publications.”

While the unbalanced relationship between news media companies and Alphabet/Google and Meta/Facebook was redressed in Australia with the News Media Bargaining Code being legally established in 2021, and extended to include further news organisations, the situation in New Zealand was not the same.

Here, the Commerce Commission allowed the News Publishers Association (NPA) to collectively negotiate with Google and Meta/Facebook for compensation but not all news media organisations were included.

The reluctance from Google and Meta/Facebook to strike more deals with more news organisation was criticised by Minister of Broadcasting Willie Jackson who then confirmed on December 4, 2022 the Government would intervene with legislation if these large digital platforms did not voluntarily strike deals with media outlets.

In the Aotearoa New Zealand Media Ownership 2022 report, Professor Wayne Hope, Journalism Media and Democracy (JMAD) Co-Director at AUT’s research centre found that the engagement between news media organisations and social media corporations have been “furtive” and “piecemeal” and for news media organisations to be properly compensated a “national legally enforceable bargaining code must be established”.

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