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

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.