Gulf publishers slam tech firms like Google for ‘unfair’ publishing war

A Saudi Arabian woman on her mobile. A number of Gulf media voices have called for Google and Facebook to be held to account for the free publication of locally-produced content. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 May 2018

Gulf publishers slam tech firms like Google for ‘unfair’ publishing war

LONDON: A number of Gulf media voices have called for Google and Facebook to be held to account for the free publication of locally-produced content.
The US tech titans have been accused of profiting from the free flow of news in the region, without being registered and recognized as media businesses in Gulf countries, or being locally accountable for the news and content they distribute.
Regional voices from media buyers and advertising agencies have grown increasingly shrill in the last few weeks, with industry chiefs such as Abdul Hamid Ahmad, editor-in-chief of UAE-based Gulf News, calling the current status quo “a matter of national security.”
The region’s publishers and media buying houses have been reeling in the wake of a huge downturn in spend on traditional media channels, such as print and TV, as online social media aggregators rake in bumper profits from republishing local media content.
According to US research firm eMarketer, digital spending will account for 47 percent of global advertizing spend in 2018, growing to 53.9 percent in 2022.
“Amazon pays a similar amount (of taxes) to the grocery next door… while merely siphoning off revenue from the country and the region,” wrote Ahmad in a column published in Gulf News earlier this month.
Ahmad called for “fairer” taxes for global tech companies, such as Google and Facebook. He also asked for government intervention to protect national publishers by instructing big local companies to advertise in local media.
Julian Hawari, co-CEO of Dubai- and Beirut-based publishing firm Mediaquest, said the regional industry is facing “many different problems at the same time.”
He told Arab News that “more attention” needs to be paid to regulating the market while still allowing it to operate freely. Hawari said: “It’s about creating a level playing ground for global players and local players, so that there is one rule in the market for all. This would greatly alleviate the current challenges for local publishers.” 
Hawari recommended that regional governments look at taxation models to address inequalities in the market, as well as implementing anti-dumping laws to protect local outlets.
Referring to anti-dumping legislation, Hawari said: “Some of the global players have extra inventory that costs them nothing, so they can sell this inventory cheaply at the last minute.
“It creates a situation where they are dumping the inventory and burning the local players. In effect, by selling cheap they are destroying the market. The industry needs to come together to resolve this unfairness.”
However, the CEO said that “singling out” players was not the answer and any new regulations must not stifle the market. “We just must create a level ground so that global players are not unfairly squeezing local media producers and agencies.”
Hawari said that dwindling ad profits and globalization of the local media market threatens the survival and quality of national journalism. “The local media is homegrown and has always been a conduit to some extent between the people and the government. If local media becomes irrelevant, there will no longer be this valuable exchange.
“When information is global you can’t check the reality of the information and the newsmakers are not bound by local laws... this is where you veer into the territory of fake news. The consequences could be terrible because content is the key and it is the craft of the media. (Quality content firms) need quality journalists and this costs money.”
Anthony Milne, chief commercial officer at Dubai-based publishing house Motivate, suggested the tech titans could subsidize services for publishers to even out the playing field.
“Facebook and Google use publishers’ content and take payment for Ad Word campaigns or content boosting. This illustrates how one-sided the relationship is. At the very least, if publishers received free access to these services, they would stand to benefit from the increased exposure that their content receives and drive more revenue to support their businesses.”
Milne added: “Publishers are creating content that Facebook and Google are obtaining at no cost that enables them to enhance their platforms. This allows them to earn revenue off the back of the investment that publishers have made in their content.
“Publishers are then at the mercy of Google and Facebook when they change algorithms making content less visible, leading to publishers having to further invest in changing their business models.
“From a media perspective, the industry needs to take a hard look
at itself. Rather than investing in platforms that are reliant on publishers’ content to provide good channels of communication, look to the content creators and invest in them.”
Hawari said that local players are also feeling the pressure of national content restrictions, while global players are unfettered by censorship or cultural guidelines. “You cannot have two sets of content, the local media needs to push the government to look at unification measures,” he said.
However, Ahmad takes a more hard-line view. “Priority on ad spending should be on the national media and not on international
media. In fact, in doing this, it will not just benefit newspapers and news organizations, but it will be in favor of national interest and sovereignty. If we do not have our own media, we will not have our own voice when we need it. It preserves our identity and social and cultural values — hallmarks of a vibrant society.”
A Google spokesperson told Arab News: “The web is very dynamic and is increasingly offering more choice for users. Google in MENA has long been committed to helping local news publishers and media companies grow, from committing to training 4,000 journalists in the region and driving clicks to publishers’ websites for free, to always paying the majority revenue share back to publishers.”
Google has previously stated that “publishing has been core to Google’s mission from the beginning” and said it drives more than 10 billion clicks a month globally to publishers’ websites for free.
The company distributes 71.9 percent of its display ad revenues across all formats to publishers on a revenue share basis. The firm said it paid $12.6 billion to publishers in 2017


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.