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Government launches plan to get ‘fair deal’ for local press from tech giants

Oliver DowdenA new regime aimed at getting a “fair deal” for news publishers from tech giants like Google and Facebook is being launched by the government.

Ministers have announced the launch of a new Digital Markets Unit to oversee a pro-competition regime for platforms including those funded by digital advertising.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will set up an accompanying new statutory code of conduct, which could be used to ensure online platforms are not applying unfair terms, conditions or policies to news publishers.

The present situation is limiting publishers’ ability to monetise their content, DCMS says.

The announcement comes on the same day a House of Lords report called on the government to do more to tackle the “fundamental imbalance of power” between publishers and tech giants.

The Competition and Markets Authority also made the same recommendation earlier this year.

DCMS says the new code will “govern commercial arrangements between publishers and platforms to help keep publishers in business – helping enhance the sustainability of high-quality online journalism and news publishing in the UK”.

The new unit, which will begin work in April, could be given powers to suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants, order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for non-compliance.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden, pictured, said: “The free press is a cornerstone of democracy and local papers are where it starts.

“They are part of the communities they serve, people rely on and respect them, and they play a vital role in holding the powerful to account and spreading accurate information.

“As more and more news moves online we want to make sure our world-renowned publishers get a fair deal from the tech platforms so we can help guarantee their long-term sustainability.

“Today we are announcing plans that will benefit news publishers by preventing the application of unfair terms, conditions and policies by the tech firms using their content.

“This is a really important change to help bolster the news industry.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma added: “Digital platforms like Google and Facebook make a significant contribution to our economy and play a massive role in our day-to-day lives – whether it’s helping us stay in touch with our loved ones, share creative content or access the latest news.

“But the dominance of just a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices and less choice and control for consumers.

“Our new, pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

The industry has welcomed the move.

Reach chief executive Jim Mullen said: “We welcome the announcement from Government this morning to accept the CMA recommendations, seeking to rebalance the relationship between the platforms and news publishers like Reach.

“We will continue to work with CMA, government and the platforms to ensure a sustainable eco-system that protects vital news providers and works for consumers.”

In a statement, the NMA added: “We welcome the government’s response today to the CMA’s market study into the digital advertising market which unearthed evidence of systematic anti-competitive behaviour and the detriment this is causing, not only to publishers but to advertisers and consumers.

“The NMA has called for a dedicated Digital Markets Unit to regulate the tech platforms and a code of conduct to govern the relationship between publishers and the platforms.

“This should include a statutory obligation for the platforms to carry and surface news publishers’ content and to pay for its use.

“We are pleased that the government has accepted the CMA’s recommendations and committed to setting up the DMU and an enforceable code which will help underpin a sustainable future for journalism.

“We urge the government to implement these without delay.”