Can a UK news media bargaining code serve independent publishers?
As Government gears up to introduce the long-awaited Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, Hani Barghouthi, PINF’s campaigns manager, gives an update on the News for All campaign effort to ensure small, independent publishers and the communities they serve are at the forefront of policy decisions. See how you can get involved below.
The news can be a profitable business, but profits have been lining the wrong pockets.
News content shared on digital platforms generates considerable advertising revenue for tech companies but bypasses the publishers that produce it, leaving existing independent news providers in a struggle to remain afloat and new ones unable to break into uncompetitive digital markets.
Last year, PINF launched the News for All campaign because we believe Government and Parliament can use their powers to support independent local publishers and the communities they serve all around the UK.
By directing funding to small publishers that cover millions of people in underrepresented communities, policymakers can ensure those publishers can produce public interest journalism that speaks to people, for them and with them.
So what can those in power do to help small, independent publishers? Very much, in fact. And it is up to all of us to get them to do it.
Government has promised to table the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer (DMCC) Bill in Parliament before the current parliamentary session ends in Autumn 2023. While the text of the bill remains tightly under wraps, we expect that it will include a bargaining code to govern the relationship between the news media sector and tech platforms like Google and Meta’s Facebook, obliging the platforms to negotiate with independent publishers for a fair share of the revenue and data their content generates.
Such a code would recognise the profit news content generates for the tech giants, estimated at £1bn per year in the UK alone. It would recognise the dramatically uneven and uncompetitive playing field between the publishers and the platforms, with Google and Meta’s grasp on the advertising market and access to first-party data skewing market power squarely in their favour.
In order to fulfil its promise of fostering a pro-competitive environment for UK businesses, however, the DMCC Bill must not only address competition between the two sectors, but within the news media sector itself.
When Australia introduced its (as yet unenforced) bargaining code in 2021, it failed to address this internal competition and appears to have exacerbated existing competitive struggles between publishers, inadvertently making small, local news providers less competitive against their large, corporate counterparts. This has coincided with an overall decline in journalism provision in the country.
To avoid this, the DMCC Bill must prioritise small, independent publishers. When this legislation passes and gives the Digital Markets Unit statutory powers to regulate the tech industry, we hope it will view the Australian model as commendable in principle but flawed in practice.
What have we been up to?
With generous funding from Reset and the Open Society Foundations, we have been busy working this campaign on several fronts.
First, we’ve been building a coalition of indie news publishers and support and member organisations. This is to ensure our advocacy includes as many voices as possible and reflects the needs of independent local publishers and the communities they serve.
To further inform our campaigning, we have tapped media and tech experts to help us craft a policy position that is fair, realistic and achievable.
Our work with the various stakeholders in the sector undergirds the final function of this campaign: engagement with policymakers.
Earlier this year, we called on the UK Government to adopt the recommendations made by the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee in their report on the sustainability of local news. PINF provided a detailed submission to the Committee’s inquiry and coordinated further submissions from the industry.
We advised Daisy Cooper MP on an Early Day Motion (#901) in Parliament to provide MPs with the opportunity to pledge support for independent publishers. Members of five political parties have so far signed on, indicating cross-party buy-in for this cause.
Advocating on a bill that has not yet been published is not a straightforward process. Still, we’re confident that the groundwork we are laying now — making sure that policymakers recognise the value of independent local news to our communities and democracy — will pay off when we see the legislation later this year.
What can you do?
Everyone can engage on this, and that can take many forms.
Media and support organisations can add their voices to ours and begin mobilising their own networks to advocate for independent publishers.
News publishers can start telling their audiences about this upcoming piece of legislation before it is introduced and make sure they are ready to engage their MPs when the time comes.
Folks concerned about the state of independent, local news, and who recognise the crucial role it plays in their lives, can start calling on their MPs to commit to supporting this sector. (Asking them to sign EDM #901 can be a great start! See a sample letter that constituents can send their MPs on this matter below.)
We want to hear from you! Whether you have thoughts on how this campaign can best serve indie publishers and the communities they report on, want to hear more about any of the topics we touched on, or see how you can help, please reach out to email@example.com.
Send a letter to your MP
To send this sample letter to your MP:
Visit WriteToThem and use your postcode to find your MP
Copy the text of the letter below, filling in the relevant information about yourself. Our text is only a suggestion and we encourage you to personalise the message further.
Let us know when you’ve sent your own letter and if you get a response! Please share with firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find your MPs email address by finding their members.parliament.uk contact page and sending a direct email instead.
[FULL ADDRESS] [POSTCODE] [DATE]
Dear [MP NAME],
My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a constituent of [YOUR CONSTITUENCY]. I am writing to you today because I am concerned that the local news providers that serve my community and help keep us all informed and engaged are struggling to keep their lights on, and I think you can help.
This is something that’s particularly important to me as someone who wants to know about the events that shape my experience in the community and the decisions my politicians make that impact many aspects of my life. I need independent local news to properly provide this coverage and help me make sense of this country and my place in it.
I believe that the way to achieve this and continue to live in a functioning, democratic society is through maintaining diverse and accurate local news provision, and fear that my rights as a resident would be easier to infringe upon if I didn’t have access to the information I need to demand them.
I am asking you to take the following steps to address this issue:
Add your name to Early Day Motion #901, pledging support for independent news providers when Government introduces the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill in Parliament.
Work with other policymakers through debate and amendments to ensure that tech platforms are obliged to negotiate with independent publishers for a fair share of the revenue and data their content generates.
Consult with small news publishers in our constituency and the organisations that support them across the UK, such as the Public Interest News Foundation, in order to learn how they can best be supported through legislation.
Please outline the ways you intend to address this issue on my and my community’s behalf. If you’re unable to address this personally, please escalate my letter to the relevant Minister or department.
Please do keep me informed of any progress made.
I look forward to hearing from you.