Titans of tech Facebook, Google ‘crushing Middle East media’

Google’s New York city office. Global tech players have been accused of selling advertising in the Middle East at the cheapest possible price as they have already covered their infrastructure costs in their home countries. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2019

Titans of tech Facebook, Google ‘crushing Middle East media’

  • No restrictions and no taxation give advantage to Facebook and Google, fintech CEO says
  • While regional media outlets have to sell advertising simply to survive, mega-companies can afford to charge only rock-bottom rates

LONDON: The GCC must tackle the issue of global tech giants such as Facebook and Google making it impossible for media publishers in the Middle East to compete, according to an industry veteran.
While regional media outlets have to sell advertising simply to survive, mega-companies can afford to charge only rock-bottom rates, said analyst and publisher Julien Hawari, formerly joint CEO of Mediaquest and now CEO of Infak First Islamic FinTech Ecosystem.
The problem was not the rates charged for advertising but rather “dumping” in the region, he added.
“Global tech players have already covered their infrastructure costs in their home countries. At that point, any extra revenue becomes profit. Therefore they sell (advertising) in the region at the cheapest possible price (which) local players cannot compete with as they have to cover their own infrastructure costs.”
On a scale of one to 10, the costs to global firms would be “close to zero” and for local firms “closer to 10.”
Unlike publishers based in the Middle East, global companies were not constrained by local regulations or taxation and faced “no red lines or consequences,” Hawari told Arab News. “That policy by itself is pushing readers to global brands instead of staying with local media.”
The unfair advantage enjoyed by global tech companies “is adding insult to injury.”
Hawari first spoke out against the disparity between global and local media at the Top CEO conference in Jeddah last April, when he called for more government regulation and taxation on social media giants. This week he told Arab News “not much” had happened since then.

 

But the problem was ever more pressing.” “The GCC should address the issues and allow its local media to prosper instead of putting (in place) all those hurdles that will ultimately devastate the industry,” said Hawari.
Google said that it returns an average of 70 percent of income from digital advertising to its “publisher partners” worldwide and claims this helps to keep smaller publishers in business. In 2017, that “shared” advertising income amounted to $12.6 billion. However, the company offered no region-by-region breakdown.
Internet giants are invariably blamed for causing the slow demise of “traditional” news by taking content from publishers without paying for it and re-publishing it online. They also stand accused of disseminating inaccurate or “fake” news because they do not check facts and sources, and of giving prominence to more trivial, “clickbait” stories at the expense of serious news.
“Media organizations choose to post their own content themselves,” said Fares Akkad, Facebook’s head of media partnerships in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. “It’s up to them how to place their content on Facebook and how they boost it.”
Both Google and Facebook have initiated training programs for journalists in Middle Eastern countries aimed at teaching them how to improve news gathering and production through the use of technology.
Facebook is investing $300 million over three years in grants to local news programs and content — “more on local than we ever spent before,” according to Akkad. However, data shared with Arab News shows that none of the money is going to the Middle East.
Google announced its training program for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia last May in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and recruited trainers from both journalism and tech. The courses in data journalism, immersive storytelling, safety and security and verification began in December with the aim of training 4,000 journalists by the summer.
The Google Digital News Initiative was set up to “support quality journalism” and “empower” news organizations to use new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).
A spokesperson for Google said: “Google has long been committed to helping local news publishers and media companies to grow, from driving traffic to publishers’ websites for free and paying the majority revenue share back to them, to committing to training journalists on digital tools.”
Facebook has also teamed up with the ICFJ to train 2,500 journalists from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia in how to verify facts and online content, how to protect online information, how to use social media and “how to build a rapport with audiences and establish a loyal following.”
The first webinar is today.

FASTFACTS

Google said that it returns an average of 70 percent of income from digital advertising to its “publisher partners” worldwide.


Lebanese news agency boycotts politicians’ press conferences, including Hezbollah’s Nasrallah

Updated 07 August 2020

Lebanese news agency boycotts politicians’ press conferences, including Hezbollah’s Nasrallah

  • The Lebanese news agency LBCI has said it will no longer provide coverage of any politician’s press conference, including Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah
  • “Let your accomplishments speak for you and don’t distract people with storytelling,” an LBCI presenter said

LONDON: The Lebanese news agency LBCI has said it will no longer provide coverage of any politician’s press conference, including Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, following Tuesday’s massive explosions.

“The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International decided that what comes after Aug. 4 is not like what came before,” a presenter announced on live television on Friday.

“Because after the earthquake is not the same as before, because your (Lebanese government) neglect and failure is one of the main reasons for what we have come to ... because after Aug. 4, we need actions and not words, achievements and not speeches.

“Let your accomplishments speak for you and don’t distract people with storytelling,” she said.

“Finally, we tell people: While you are waiting for the speeches of your leaders, there are mothers who are waiting for the return of their children from the rubble — the priority is for them, not for you.”

Many Lebanese welcomed LBCI’s announcement, with several taking to social media to praise the move — especially given that Nasrallah spoke at a press conference at 5:30 p.m. local time, his first address since the blasts.

“Not only Nasrallah, but all speeches, by all parties. They are nothing more than propaganda. They own their own propaganda bullhorns, so let them use those to address their sheep, rather than block the airwaves for the rest of us,” Raghda Azad, a policy adviser, told Arab News.

“Not that LBC is a model or anything, but all television outlets should stop unquestioning and uncritical reports of so-called leaders,” she added.

However, some doubt the move will not be followed by other stations.

“I think it would be great if they all do. But I think because many people care what he says, stations feel like they should oblige,” Aya Chamseddine, a Beirut-based researcher, told Arab News.

“Generally, people tend to — even if they loathe him — root themselves in front of TVs to watch and listen. His speeches are theatrics above all,” she said. “His narrative will be predictable. He will say they know more than anyone what it means to lose people. He’ll be insulting.”

A Lebanese media expert, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, disagrees with the move.

“CNN, even when it hates (US President) Trump, carries his speeches. Nasrallah is the biggest political player in the region; when he speaks people would want to listen because of his effect on politics and our daily lives,” he said.

“The issue is analyzing what he says later, and tearing it apart when it is false or stupid, like CNN does after every Trump speech or statement.”

The boycott comes three days after Beirut was rocked by two blasts when 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated six years ago and left in a port storage hangar exploded.

The massive explosions left at least 140 people dead, over 5,000 injured and more than 300,000 homeless. Many say that government corruption and negligence are behind the explosion.