The Government won’t back down on its plans to legally require big tech companies to pay for news content that appears on their platforms, even as the corporations revolt against a similar move in Canada.
Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson told Newsroom legislation would be introduced next month to shore up news media revenue.
“I consider news content is a valuable commodity and a vital part of a strong and well-functioning democracy. This is why I am progressing with our legislation,” he said.
The commitment comes against the backdrop of Google and Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) barring news content from their platforms in Canada. There, Canadian news won’t even appear in Google search results any more.
Globally, news media have lost advertising revenue – their traditional main funding source – to social media companies. In addition to Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have also looked into plans to rectify this by forcing platforms to pay for the news content on their sites.
In Australia, a showdown saw Facebook shut off access to news for a few days in 2021, but the parties have since reached a compromise that has resulted in AU$200 million changing hands between big tech and media.
Caroline Rainsford, the director of Google New Zealand, didn’t directly answer Newsroom’s questions about whether the company would turn off the tap here. However, she pointed out that Google had already brokered deals with most major local news outlets, including Stuff, NZME, RNZ, TVNZ, Allied Press and Newsroom.
“Google is committed to a vibrant and diverse news ecosystem in New Zealand. To this end, we launched Google News Showcase in New Zealand last year – a program paying publishers to curate content and build deeper relationships with readers,” she said.
Google has also worked closely with the Government on developing the new policies.
Meta’s head of policy for New Zealand and the Pacific, Nick McDonnell, said the company wanted to see the detail of the proposals.
“As we have raised in other jurisdictions, legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them and the value we provide news publishers, raises concerns. We will wait to see the proposed reform and continue to be open and transparent with governments and publishers on our business decisions as this issue progresses,” he said.
The company has also signed agreements with NZME, the Spinoff and Newsroom, although these don’t relate to paying directly for news content.
Elsewhere, Meta has disputed the idea it has taken revenue from news media.
“The traditional news industry faces profound challenges. New technology has emerged, consumer behaviour has changed, and old business models don’t work any more. Of course, everyone wants quality journalism to thrive. But it makes no more sense to claim social media companies are taking money from publishers than to say car companies stole from the horse and cart industry,” Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Meta, told Canadian legislators in May.
Jackson disagreed with this characterisation, saying journalism needed sustainable funding and that should come in part from big tech.
“Legislation is needed to support our news publishers and ensure the New Zealand news media industry can be self-sustaining in a digital future. Journalists reporting the news in New Zealand are not usually doing so for free,” he said.
The broadcasting minister added that the financial impact of paying for news in New Zealand would make up a relatively small proportion of the revenue the companies earn here.
“This means that social media companies will still have significant commercial incentives to continue commercial operations in Aotearoa.”
He was unbothered by the possibility of Meta and Google withdrawing here as they have in Canada.
“It is disappointing that Meta would choose to block people’s access to news content in Canada instead of engaging with the publishers to fairly compensate them for the value they bring to Facebook and Instagram’s users. Officials expect that if Meta were to leave the digital news media marketplace in New Zealand, another social media platform would enter the market and take its place,” he said.
“Google and Meta are the two biggest players today, but this may not always be the case, and the legislation should be future-proofed.”