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
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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


Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

Updated 18 November 2018
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Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

  • Pakistan digital growth is supported by population and increasing penetration of internet, IT experts
  • Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom to meet next week to draw comprehensive policy

KARACHI: Destine to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030, Pakistan, supported by a growing population, fast growing business and increasing penetration of Internet, is poised to grab first position among the digital economies, Information Technology (IT) experts say.
US technology giant, Google, says Pakistan is quickly becoming a “digital-first country”, which means there are new opportunities for brands to reach and engage with consumers that may have previously been overlooked.
“It shows that Google has realized the marketing potential of the country and they are now encouraging businesses to focus on Pakistan as a potential market,” Badar Khushnood, vice president of growth at Fishry.Com and vice chairman of [email protected], commented.
According to Google, there are five reasons for “considering expanding your digital campaigns into Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s growing population is the first reason that makes the country attractive for the foreign and local investors to venture into the IT sector.
“Pakistan has a population of more than 202 million people, which means there are lot of potential consumers coming online every day. And the country is even more urbanized than neighboring India, with nearly 40 percent of total households living in cities,” writes Lars Anthonizen, head of large customer marketing, South Asia, Google.
Pakistan’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2018. HSBC in is recent report published in September 2018 has projected Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030.
Around 90 percent of the companies in the country are SMEs which are contributing more that 40 percent to the country’s 313 billion economy, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Third attraction, according to Google, is the country’s growing smart phone users. Pakistan has 152 million cellar subscribers, and 60 million 3G/4G subscribers, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
This number will likely grow quickly as smart phone prices have dropped over the last few years. Pakistan also has some of the cheapest data prices in the world, which is helping to grow mobile app usage, according to Google.
However, experts say more work is needed to be done to fully utilize the existing potential. “We need to work on optic fibers, penetration of 4G, creation of data centers, telecom infrastructure and most importantly creation of awareness among masses,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the newly formed prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s overall Internet penetration stands at 29.9 percent with 62 million broadband subscribers, a fourth attraction for the investor, as per Google. In spite of this, digital consumption in the country continues to grow quickly. YouTube watch time, for example, has seen over 60 percent growth over the last three years.
The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the largest Chinese investment venture in Pakistan with around $62 billion, a fifth reason to look toward Pakistan.
The mega project under BRI is not only limited to the infrastructure and energy sector but it is also contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Pakistan.
“One of the first CPEC projects is to lay 820 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, connecting more Pakistanis to the Internet. This is in addition to ongoing investments in 3G and 4G network expansions from China Mobile, and the company has already announced plans to invest another $225 million in 4G expansion (bringing its total investment to $2.4 billion),” writes Lars Anthonizen.
“We have to connect every village through fiber optics that will not only create thousands of jobs but would multiply opportunities for the IT business countrywide,” Pervaiz Iftikhar added.
“A lot of potential exists in the IT sector of Pakistan with the young population turning to computers, smart phones and other digital means, and the country offers big market for local and foreign investors”, Jehan Ara, another member of the prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom and president of [email protected], commented.
Badar Khushnood, who is also former consultant of Google, Facebook and Twitter, called for comprehensive policy for the growth of the IT sector.
“Taxation systems should be rationalized, simplified, and encouraging for startups. The country also needs data protection laws, and broader cyber laws,” he added.
The first meeting of the prime minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom is expected to be held next week in Islamabad. “Comprehensive strategy including short term and long term measures would be discussed in the upcoming meeting of taskforce because country needs a policy for the persistent growth of IT and Telecom sector”, Pervaiz Iftikhar informed.