New research – by democracy watchdog the Otto Brenner Foundation and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) – looked at Google’s €150m funding to newsrooms by collecting data on organisations and individuals which had received project funding through Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI) from 2015 to 2019.
According to the data gathered by researchers, commercial publishers received 70% of DNI funds, while not-for-profit publishers and publicly-funded media organisations received less than 10% of the money disbursed.
Long-standing publishers – those established before 2000 – received almost 70% of funds.
Report co-author Alexander Fanta of digital rights blog, Netzpolitik.org, believes the funding was used to help Google win friends among powerful established publishers.
“In the first couple of years, the DNI was really an attempt by Google to woo the publishers and make them their pet allies. Google was using its funding as a political tool.
“The governance of the fund was set up so that established publishers would be an important beneficiary.”
Among the biggest recipients were organisations in France and Germany, two countries where lawsuits and regulatory pressure against Big Tech’s excessive influence on media have been particularly marked.
According to Fanta the skewing of funding to western European countries hurts the diversity of Europe’s media.
“It’s a threat to media pluralism,” he said. “In a time when the media is also suffering from economic problems, this is a boost to incumbents.”
The survey found that Google’s support to newsrooms has helped improve its image among journalists and boosted the use of the Google services and tools for distributing, creating and monetising content – especially in Germany.
Data from Alphabet (Google’s parent company) shows that the tech giant’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) revenues for 2015 to 2019 came to $188 billion – the €150m DNI funding in the same period is not even 0.01% of this.
Responding to the researchers’ contention that it uses its funds to woo media, Google said: “We know that publishers are going through deep structural change due to digitisation and now also the pandemic. We do a lot to support quality journalism, but we also know from discussions with our publishing partners and policymakers that we are expected to do more. And this is exactly what we have been doing for several years, with the Digital and the Google News Initiatives and now News Showcase.”