January 25, 2021

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Digital code of conduct will help protect news publishers from Facebook and Google

3 min read

A code of conduct will help protect news publishers and outlets from being edged out by tech giants including Facebook and Google online, the Government has announced.

A Digital Markets Unit housed within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will oversee deployment of the code, which could prevent platforms from subjecting its users to “unfair terms, conditions or policies to certain business customers, including news publishers,” the Government said.

The new unit, which will start work in April 2021, could be handed the power to suspend, block and reverse decisions made by Facebook, Google and other tech firms, working closely with broadcast regulator Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Tech giants may be ordered to take certain actions to comply with the code and could face significant financial fines if they fail to meet its standards.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY NOVEMBER 27 Undated handout file images of the Google and Facebook logos. A "fundamental imbalance of power" between news publishers and platforms like Facebook and Google must be fixed to save journalism from an "existential threat", a Lords report has warned. PA Photo. Issue date: Friday November 27, 2020. The Government has been told to act on the "dysfunctional" online ads market which is crippling news organisations, particularly after increased strain caused by the pandemic. See PA story TECHNOLOGY Advertising. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
A ‘fundamental imbalance of power’ between news publishers and platforms like Facebook and Google must be fixed to save journalism from an ‘existential threat’, a Lords report has warned (Photo: PA)

Commercial arrangements between news publishers and the likes of Facebook and Google would be covered by the code, which it claimed would help to enhance the sustainability of high-quality online journalism and news publishing in the UK and ensure fairer deals for publishers and their staff. 

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Google plans to pay publishers for high-quality content to help out the struggling news industry

Currently, dominant online platforms can limit publishers’ ability to monetise their articles and other content, it added.

The code could force platforms funded by digital advertising to be more transparent about how they use customer data and remove barriers making it harder to switch to rival services.

Online advertising dominance

Around £14bn was spent on digital advertising in the UK in 2019, around 80 per cent of which was spent on Google and Facebook.

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Facebook’s ‘news tab’ should be viewed like much of its content – with suspicion

“There is growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.” 

Australia is set to become the first country to force Facebook and Google to pay publishers and media companies for their news content under a draft mandatory code announced by the country’s government in July.

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Google and Facebook must pay the price for what they’ve done with news

The proposed code is designed to address what the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission called the “bargaining power imbalance” between news businesses and the tech giants.

Publishers will enter into a three-month negotiation process with Google and Facebook for fair payment for news content, giving an independent arbitrator the power to choose which of the two proposed approaches is most reasonable if negotiations fail to bear fruit.

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