How do we ensure digital competition legislation can support independent publishers?
About a month after the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, PINF Campaigns Manager Hani Barghouthi shares some updates on the state of the legislation and the rapidly growing News for All campaign, designed to advocate on behalf of independent news publishers and the communities they serve.
Read below for two vacancies we’re looking to fill.
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 around the UK.
We have been keeping busy since we last updated you in March, and so, apparently, have the UK’s policymakers. Things look very different today both in Westminster and in the campaign, so read ahead for updates on both!
On the political front, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill has been introduced in Parliament and debate began on May 17th. This bill, we hope, will empower the Digital Markets Unit to redress the power imbalances between tech giants and independent news publishers, creating a more competitive digital economy that allows small and start-up players and the communities that they serve to flourish.
If passed, it will impose tailored codes of conduct on large tech companies, compelling them to interact with other players in the digital market on fair and balanced terms. This will also hopefully loosen the platforms’ near-complete grip on vast swaths of the digital arena, including advertising, and bring them to the bargaining table to negotiate with publishers in good faith for revenue and data sharing, among others.
We have welcomed the introduction of this draft legislation and will advocate for its passage through Parliament while continuing to address some concerns that arise from its text.
We have also been pleased to receive assurances from the Government that the provisions in the bill are designed in a way that can benefit news providers, despite news publishers not being mentioned in the text of the draft legislation.
These assurances came in the Government’s response to the DCMS Select Committee report on the sustainability of local journalism, as well as in minister responses to parliamentary questions we worked to secure from Damian Collins, Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, and Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park and spokesperson for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We were also heartened to see questions from other MPs expressing their interest in and concern for the news industry.
We, and others in the sector, hope that this bill will direct desperately needed funds from the platforms to publishers.
Since March, we have ramped up our direct outreach to MPs and Peers, complementing individual conversations with written briefings and requests for support. Last month, we met with members of the Digital Regulation and Responsibility APPG, along with other advocates in the journalism world, to discuss how this legislation can support as many publishers as possible.
The same week and with support from Reset, a News for All funder, we convened a private roundtable to discuss a UK publisher-platform bargaining code. It was a productive and fascinating conversation, bringing together a broad group of British and international regulators, media policy experts, economists and representatives of the independent and corporate media sectors.
Under the Chatham House Rule, we explored arguments for regulating the digital market, the debate around measuring the value of news to platforms, competition law and its potential to enhance media plurality, in addition to the content of the bill itself and how it may be applied.
To inform the discussion, Professor Robert Picard of the Reuters Institute at Oxford University and the Information Society Project at Yale University generously produced a paper titled ‘Bargaining for Digital Platform Compensation: An Analysis of Issues and Policy Options for Content Creators’.
In the paper, Robert expertly explores the issues around compulsory platform-publisher bargaining and recommends collective bargaining for smaller publishers as well as introducing levies on tech platforms to create support funds for micro news providers.
We are very pleased to share Robert Picard’s paper and hope it will be as beneficial and informative to others as it has been for us and our partners.
While we’ve expanded our direct outreach to policymakers, we’re also excited to announce that News for All is growing!
As legislation was fast approaching earlier in the spring, we decided it would be absolutely crucial to get the independent publishers we spend so much time speaking with and advocating for directly involved, to ensure that the campaign we are designing continues to be accurately and actively informed by their needs and experiences, and to ensure that policymakers are consistently made aware of the communities their policy decisions impact.
And so, in order to connect us with indie publishers all around the UK and to connect the publishers with each other, we have hired four national/regional Campaign Organisers, and hope to engage two more.
The organisers have each shown a clear commitment to public interest journalism, and we are delighted to be working with them. These are Rhiannon Davies for Scotland, Gary Kelly for the North of England, Rhys Everquill of the Midlands, and Silvia Rose for Wales.
Get to know the organisers here! Since joining the campaign, they’ve all hit the ground running, making use of key relationships they already have and rapidly establishing new ones with publishers in nearly every corner of the UK.
We are still looking for campaign organisers for Northern Ireland and the South of England. This is a freelance contract, initially paying £1,500 for 5 hours of work a week over three months. If this is you or someone you know, please do get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help with our advocacy, we are also excited to be working with the Harrison Agency and other partners in the sector on a PR campaign to communicate the value of and garner public support for independent news providers. We hope this campaign will lead to the production of campaign materials that all kinds of players in the indie news world can adapt and use for their own audiences. If you would like to learn more about the campaign and get involved, get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk through it!
And finally: In other news, to continue the discussions on bargaining codes with international partners, we will be attending ‘Big Tech and Journalism – Building a Sustainable Future in the Global South’ at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in July.
Watch this space for further updates, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!
Hani Barghouthi is Campaigns Manager at PINF.