Google pledges to help struggling news organizations

Google has announced new steps to help struggling news publishers hurt by the shift from print to digital. (AP)
Updated 02 October 2017
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Google pledges to help struggling news organizations

WASHINGTON: Google announced new steps to help struggling news organizations on Monday — including an end to a longstanding “first click free” policy to generate fresh revenues for publishers hurt by the shift from print to digital.
The moves come amid mounting criticism that online platforms are siphoning off the majority of revenues as more readers turn to digital platforms for news.
“I truly believe that Google and news publishers actually share a common cause,” said Google Vice President Philipp Schindler.
“Our users truly value high quality journalism.”
Google announced a series of measures, the most significant of which would be to replace the decade-old policy of requiring news organizations to provide one article discovered in a news search without subscribing — a standard known as “first click free.”
This will be replaced by a “flexible sampling” model that will allow publishers to require a subscription if they choose at any time.
“We realize that one size does not fit all,” said Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president for news.
This will allow news organizations to decide whether to show articles at no cost or to implement a “paywall” for some or all content.
Gingras said the new policy, effective on Monday, will be in place worldwide. He said it was not clear how many publishers would start implementing an immediate paywall as a result.
“The reaction to our efforts has been positive,” he told a conference call announcing the new policy.
“This is not a silver bullet to the subscription market. It is a very competitive market for information. And people buy subscriptions when they have a perception of value.”
Google said it is recommending a “metering” system allowing 10 free articles per month as the best way to encourage subscriptions.
The California tech giant also said it would work with publishers to make subscriptions easier, including allowing readers to pay with their Google or Android account to avoid a cumbersome registration process.
“We think we can get it down to one click, that would be superb,” Gingras said.
He explained people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, but that a “sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That’s not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue.”
Google would share data with the news organizations to enable them to keep up the customer relationship, he added.
“We’re not looking to own the customer,” he said. “We will provide the name of user, the email and if necessary the address.”
Gingras said Google is also exploring ways “to use machine learning to help publishers recognize potential subscribers,” employing the Internet giant’s technology to help news organizations.
He added that Google was not implementing the changes to generate revenues for itself, but that some financial details had not been worked out.
Google does not intend to take a slice of subscription revenues, he noted.
“Our intent is to be as generous as possible,” he said.
Research firm eMarketer estimates that Google and Facebook will take in 63 percent of digital advertising revenues in 2017 — making it harder for news organizations to compete online.
Facebook is widely believed to be working on a similar effort to help news organizations drive more subscriptions.
Google created a “Digital News Initiative” in Europe in 2015 which provides funding for innovative journalism projects.
— AFP


Egypt tightens grip on media with new bill

This file photo taken on March 22, 2018 shows apps for WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks on a smartphone. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Egypt tightens grip on media with new bill

  • Social media accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on sites such as Twitter and Facebook will be treated as media outlets
  • The media council will supervise the law and take action against violations

CAIRO: A controversial law passed by Egypt’s Parliament on Monday classifies social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, exposing them to the country’s harsh regulations for journalists.
Under the new law, social media users with a large following can be subject to prosecution for spreading false news or inciting crime.
The law prohibits the establishment of websites without first obtaining a license from the Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, a government body with authority to legally suspend or block websites in violation of the country’s strict laws, and penalize editors with hefty fines.
Journalists are also forbidden from filming in prohibited areas, according to the new law.
While the bill stipulates that its provisions will apply to press and media organizations, Article 19 states that personal websites, blogs or social media accounts with no ties to the press are also liable to prosecution and must be licensed by the Supreme Council.
“That power of interpretation has been a powerful legal and executive tool used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists,” Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Reuters this week.
The law’s vague language gives authorities even more power to control the media, he said.
Egypt has faced mounting criticism in recent years for its draconian laws regarding the press and freedom of expression, in addition to widespread human rights violations.
A 2015 counterterrorism law, enacted by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, gave the government sweeping powers over the regime’s critics under the guise of protecting the nation. The law allows prosecutors to detain suspects without judicial review, and order surveillance of suspected individuals or organizations without the need for a court order.
With a broad definition of what constitutes a terrorist act, the law creates a vague framework under which the government can arbitrarily detain citizens and implement punishments as severe as the death penalty. The law also requires journalists in Egypt to report only the official state version of any news related to national security.
In May 2017, the Egyptian government blocked about 20 websites affiliated with local and international news outlets, including independent news sites such as Mada Masr and Daily News Egypt, as well as blogs criticizing the regime.
A few months later, the government’s efforts were expanded to include sites affiliated with human rights groups and organizations. This included websites of local NGOs as well as international organizations like Human Rights Watch.
More than 500 websites are now blocked in Egypt, including VPN and proxy sites such as Tor and TunnelBear that allow Egyptians to circumvent online censorship. No official government body has claimed responsibility for blocking the websites.
According to a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, El-Sisi’s repressive legislation offers the government “near-absolute impunity for abuses by security forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”
The report goes on to explain that in addition to numerous extrajudicial killings, hundreds have been placed on terrorism lists without due process with many more civilians being sent to military trials with charges of political dissent.
“The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent rights group, said that as of mid-August, 378 people had disappeared over the previous 12 months and the whereabouts of at least 87 remained unknown. These numbers do not include those who were found killed after having gone missing,” the report said.
Reporters Without Borders called Egypt “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists” and said that many reporters have spent years in prison without being formally charged.
“The Internet is the only place left where independently reported news and information can circulate, but more than 400 websites have been blocked since the summer of 2017 and more people are being arrested because of their social network posts,” it said.