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


Egypt targets social media with new law

Updated 17 July 2018
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Egypt targets social media with new law

  • 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: Egypt’s parliament has passed a law giving the state powers to block social media accounts and penalize journalists held to be publishing fake news.
Under the law passed on Monday social media accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on sites such as Twitter and Facebook will be treated as media outlets, which makes them subject to prosecution for publishing false news or incitement to break the law.
The Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, headed by an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, will supervise the law and take action against violations.
The bill prohibits the establishment of websites without obtaining a license from the Supreme Council and allows it to suspend or block existing websites, or impose fines on editors.
The law, which takes effect after it is ratified by El-Sisi, also states that journalists can only film in places that are not prohibited, but does not explain further.
Supporters of El-Sisi say the law is intended to safeguard freedom of expression and it was approved after consultations with judicial experts and journalists.
But critics say it will give legal basis to measures the government has been taking to crack down on dissent and extend its control over social media.
Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the vague wording of the law allows authorities to interpret violations and control the media.
“That power of interpretation has been a constant powerful legal and executive tool that was used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists,” he told Reuters.
Hundreds of news sites and blogs have been blocked in recent months and around a dozen people have been arrested this year and charged with publishing false news, many of them journalists or prominent government critics.