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Plan to increase regional press ‘bargaining power’ unveiled by ministers

Chris PhilpMinisters have set out in detail plans to help news publishers monetise content from tech giants like Google and Facebook.

The UK Government has announced the new Digital Markets Unit will be given the power to step in to solve pricing disputes between news outlets and platforms as part of a new regime aimed at better regulating the biggest technology firms.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has now confirmed it will give the Unit statutory powers, which will allow it to enforce pro-competition rules and “rebalance the relationship tech giants have with consumers and businesses so they are better protected from unfair practices”.

The announcement comes after commercial publishers and broadcasters joined forces with the BBC in March to call for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put the Unit, launched last year, on a statutory footing.

The regulator will enforce a new tailored code of conduct for how firms and digital markets should treat their users and other companies fairly, and set out how dominant firms should trade with content providers such as news publishers.

Ministers believe the move could increase the “bargaining power” of national and regional newspapers, and force social media platforms to be more transparent on how they position publishers on their platforms.

Plans for fines up to 10pc of global turnover for breaches of the new pro-competition rules will also be put in place, DCMS has confirmed.

Digital Minister Chris Philp, pictured, said: “Technology has revolutionised the way thousands of UK firms do business – helping them reach new customers and putting a range of instant online services at people’s fingertips.

“But the dominance of a few tech giants is crowding out competition and stifling innovation.

“We want to level the playing field and we are arming this new tech regulator with a range of powers to generate lower prices, better choice and more control for consumers while backing content creators, innovators and publishers, including in our vital news industry.”

The move has been welcomed by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “The CMA welcomes these proposals and we’re pleased that the government has taken forward a number of our recommendations that will allow the DMU to oversee an effective and robust digital markets regime in the UK.

“The CMA stands ready to assist the government to ensure that legislation can be brought forward as quickly as possible, so consumers and businesses can benefit.”

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith said:  “We welcome the government’s clear commitment to give the Digital Markets Unit the statutory powers it urgently needs, and note the widespread support for the new regime from respondents to the consultation.

“We also welcome the government’s commitment to press sustainability and acceptance of CMA and Ofcom proposals to introduce a legally binding code of conduct with binding final offer arbitration as a mechanism to underpin meaningful payment for news publishers’ content by the tech platforms.

“This pro-competitive and pro-innovation intervention is long overdue and we now urgently need to get on with passing this important legislation so the DMU has the tools it needs to get on with the job. The Queen’s Speech on Tuesday is the obvious opportunity to take this forward via a Digital Competition Bill.”