Mideast media ‘need united front’ against Facebook, Google

The US newspaper industry on July 10, 2017 warned of a “duopoly” in online news by Google and Facebook, and called for legislation that would relax antitrust rules allowing collective negotiations with the Internet giants.The News Media Alliance said that because Google and Facebook dominate online news traffic digital advertising, “publishers are forced to surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized.”(AFP)
Updated 11 July 2017

Mideast media ‘need united front’ against Facebook, Google

LONDON: Middle East media need to present a united front against Google and Facebook due to the allegedly unfair advantage enjoyed by the social-media giants, something that could kill off local media within years, it has been claimed.

A private meeting of industry executives in April, held at the Top CEO conference in Jeddah, raised the issue of how big social-media companies are apparently offering advertising at much cheaper rates in the Middle East.

Julien Hawari, co-CEO of conference organizer and publisher Mediaquest Corp., said that a number of recommendations were drawn up, principally the need for more government regulation and taxation on social-media giants.

The next step is to publish a white paper of the recommendations, and form a united front with a wider range of media outlets, he said. 

“We are allowing the local ecosystem to be completely destroyed by Google and Facebook,” Hawari told Arab News. 

“They are selling (advertising) well below the price they should be selling at. This is one of the problems.

“The way things are going, in a few years’ time … there will be no more local media that have influence, have impact.”

Hawari said that the average price for local publishers to break even with digital media products was roughly $10 per 1,000 advertisement impressions, known in the industry as “CPM.”

“Google and Facebook are able to sell their advertisement inventory sometimes at prices that are $1, $2 or $3 a CPM. And the only reason they are able to sell at such cheap prices is that they have very little infrastructure in the region … Basically, they are selling the last marginal unit, which is the cheapest.”

“Today, Google and Facebook are dumping their inventory in the region at prices that do not allow local competition to emerge,” he added, pointing out that there is no specific legislation to prevent this. 

Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hawari said there was no call to ban the digital media giants, but rather to make the market fairer through regulation and taxation. 

“The playing field needs to be leveled in such a way that it is really competitive to everybody,” he said. 

“You cannot allow one player to distort and completely destroy the market … The only way you are going to achieve results (is through) regulation and taxation.”

The news comes, as it emerged that media outlets in the US are seeking permission from Congress for the right to negotiate jointly with Google and Facebook, which dominate online advertising and online news traffic.

The News Media Alliance, which represents nearly 2,000 news organizations, said that because of those two companies’ dominance, news publishers are forced to “surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized.”

“These rules have commoditized the news and given rise to fake news, which often cannot be differentiated from real news,” the alliance said in a press release on Monday.

The news industry has been hit with declining print readership and a loss of advertising revenue as it has moved online.

The outlets want stronger protections for intellectual property, support for subscription models and a bigger share of the online advertising market. Google and Facebook combined will account for 60 percent of the US digital advertising market this year, according to the research firm eMarketer.

The news alliance says it would need an exemption from antitrust law to negotiate as a group. But getting Congress to pass an exemption is likely to be difficult.

Campbell Brown, global head of news media partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement to Arab News: “We’re committed to helping quality journalism thrive on Facebook. We’re making progress through our work with news publishers and have more work to do.”

A Google spokesperson said: “We want to help news publishers succeed as they transition to digital. In recent years, we’ve built numerous specialized products and technologies, developed specifically to help distribute, fund, and support newspapers. This is a priority and we remain deeply committed to helping publishers with both their challenges, and their opportunities.”

Austyn Allison, the editor of Campaign Middle East, a Dubai-based magazine covering the advertising industry, said that the power wielded by big social media companies was becoming an issue globally. 

“I think there’s a problem with Google and Facebook getting too powerful everywhere. And I really don’t know that there’s much of a way to stop them,” he told Arab News.

This had led to an “if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em approach,” he added.

“That’s what a lot of sites like Stepfeed, Lovin’ Dubai and other new entrants are doing. They are playing to the Facebook and Google models to promote their distribution.

“But that can end up with news sites becoming very click-baity, and erring toward sensational but low-quality news.

“On the other hand, quality, established media outlets are losing out … the more quality news brands work together, the better. There is strength in numbers on the Internet, and at the moment Google and Facebook have those numbers on their side. If traditional outlets can accept that they are no longer rivals with one another but with the duopoly, then we might see the balance start to shift.”

— With input from AP


TikTok gets reprieve as judge halts Trump download ban

Updated 28 September 2020

TikTok gets reprieve as judge halts Trump download ban

  • The Trump administration order had sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight
  • The decision represents a temporary win for TikTok, which has 100 million US users

WASHINGTON: TikTok won a last-minute reprieve late Sunday as a US federal judge halted enforcement of a politically charged ban ordered by the Trump administration on downloads of the popular video app, hours before it was set to take effect.
District Judge Carl Nichols issued a temporary injunction at the request of TikTok, which the White House has called a national security threat stemming from its Chinese parent firm’s links to the Beijing government.
The opinion was sealed, so no reason for the decision was released in a brief order by the court in Washington. The judge may unseal portions of the order after consulting with lawyers from both sides.
The Trump administration order had sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight (0400 GMT Monday) but would allow use of TikTok until November 12, when all usage would be blocked. The judge denied TikTok’s request to suspend the November 12 ban.
The decision represents a temporary win for TikTok, which has 100 million US users. But the court has yet to consider the merits of the legal arguments on whether the social platform should remain available to Americans.
TikTok has argued that even a temporary ban would be devastating and cause the company irreparable harm by stunting its growth and hurting its commercial reputation.
“We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction,” TikTok said in a statement.
“We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees.”
For the injunction, Nichols heard arguments on the free-speech and national security implications of the Trump ban on the Chinese-owned app in a rare Sunday telephone hearing.
TikTok lawyer John Hall said a ban would be “punitive” and close off a public forum used by tens of millions of Americans.
In a written brief filed ahead of the hearing, TikTok lawyers said the ban was “arbitrary and capricious” and “would undermine data security” by blocking updates and fixes to the app.
The company also said the ban was unnecessary because negotiations were already underway to restructure the ownership of TikTok to address national security issues raised by the administration.
Government lawyers argued the president has a right to take national security actions, and said the ban was needed because of TikTok’s links to the Chinese government through its parent firm ByteDance.
A government brief called ByteDance “a mouthpiece” for the Chinese Communist Party and said it was “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging.”
After the judge’s order, the Commerce Department said in a statement it would comply with the injunction but “intends to vigorously defend the (executive order)... from legal challenges.”
University of Richmond law school professor Carl Tobias called Sunday’s order “a pragmatic splitting of the baby for the short term, to give a little time for them to resolve the disputes and come to a resolution.”
Tobias said an appeal is possible but that the legal teams may choose to “try to work out a resolution to the broader legal clash” with the judge.
An amicus brief filed by Netchoice, a trade group which includes Google, Facebook and Twitter, said a ban could have important implications for the global Internet.
“The government’s actions are unprecedented in scope,” the group said in its filing.
A ban would “also create a dangerous precedent” for the open Internet, the brief said.
“The prohibition on any use of TikTok code by US developers for any purpose is effectively a ban on the building blocks of digital free expression.”
The trade group said a TikTok ban may be cited by China or other countries “as justification for banning or restricting the activities of US Internet businesses, including US-based social media platforms.”
Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and the popular Chinese app WeChat, which has been put on hold in a separate court case in California.
But the TikTok order stops short of a full ban until November 12, giving parent firm ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.
A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
TikTok said Sunday it would “maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government” on the plan which got a preliminary approval last weekend from President Donald Trump.
It was unclear if the deal would be approved by Beijing, where some consider the US move an unjustified appropriation of Chinese technology.