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May 11, 2023

Barry Diller joins News Corp and Axel Springer to fight ‘destructive’ AI

Diller, a founder of Fox, also spoke of how the Dominion case stained Rupert Murdoch's legacy.

By Dominic Ponsford

Barry Diller, the billionaire chairman of US online publisher IAC and Expedia, has joined forces with News Corp and Axel Springer to fight the threat posed to publishers by generative AI.

The Fox Corporation co-founder warned that AI, as deployed by platforms like ChatGPT, poses a similar threat to news publishers as the advent of free online news did in the early years of the commercial internet.

His warning came as Google announced the launch of PaLM 2 AI, its own generative language model, which is an alternative to OpenAI’s ChatCPT.

Speaking at the Sir Harry Evans Summit on investigative journalism in London, Diller said: “It’s a terrible mistake for publishers to allow it [ChatGPT] to suck up every known piece of work that has ever been done.

“Back 20 years ago, when everything was free on the internet, the internet began as a hub of free media.

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“In 15 of those years you saw enormous destruction, it took The New York Times to the hour of bankruptcy. Paywalls saved mainstream journalism.

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“Right now the same thing is happening… Unless publishers say, ‘You cannot do that until there is a structure in place for publishers to get paid,’ you will see another wave that is maybe even more destructive.”

Later he spoke of his admiration for OpenAI chairman Sam Altman and said that despite the huge investment in his company from the likes of Microsoft, Altman retains the power to “pull the plug” on the technology at any time. “He understands the dangers – you couldn’t make up a better steward.”

Interviewed by conference organiser Tina Brown, Diller was asked about fair usage rules in US and UK copyright law, which may provide a defence for OpenAI from expected legal actions brought by publishers. The company has used millions of professionally-produced news articles, including information held behind paywalls, to train ChatGPT and allow it to answer users’ questions without reference to the source material.

Diller said: “The basis for fair use [in copyright law] has to be redefined. You can’t have fair use when there is an unfair machine that knows no bounds.”

And he revealed that his company is working with News Corp and Axel Springer to challenge ChatGPT and others that are exploiting copyrighted news content without permission or recompense.

He said: “We are leading a group really that’s going to say we are going to change the copyright law if necessary, we are going to say to you cannot take our material or we will litigate. We are going to be very active. What you can do is say what you publish you have a right to control.”

ChatGPT (Shutterstock)
Barry Diller. Picture: Noam Galai / Getty Images

Powerpoint ‘insidious’: Decisions should be instinctive

Asked to share some insights into his success as a businessman, Diller said: “I’ve got two things going for me: I’m curious and I don’t want to know too much.”

He warned that Powerpoint presentations are “an insidious force” in business.

And he said: “I believe these decisions are mostly instinctive. Is it a good idea? If you actually start doing projections, and define what the size of the TAM, which is the total market size, and your position in it and all this drivel, you really do get misled. I always thought that editorial choices between A and B are binary and instinctive.”

He added: “The more the odds are against you the better chance you have, because it means less people are trying to compete with you.”

Asked how business leaders can retain talent, he said: “Hiring for senior positions outside your own company is a true failure. The best thing you can do is find people who have some spark and energy and hopefully a little edge at the earliest point, they can have almost no experience, and drop them in over their head in the water.

“They will struggle a little bit and they will surprisingly often learn to navigate to the other side and grow in your organisation in the sensibility of the company that you want to have. That is how you get people to grow.

“I do want doctors that have experience, but in the narrative world, experience is worth nothing.”

Dominion case a stain on the reputation of Rupert Murdoch

Diller was chairman and CEO of Fox Inc from 1984 to 1992, working closely with Rupert Murdoch on the successful creation of America’s fourth major national broadcast TV network.

Diller was asked by Brown about Murdoch and the decision by Fox News to pay $787m in defamation damages to voting machines company Dominion for knowingly misleading viewers.

Diller said that Murdoch’s entrepreneurship and willingness to gamble his entire company to build new products, as he did with Sky in the UK in the 1980s, was inspiring.

But he added: “The tragedy of Rupert is he is going to be known for what happened at Fox News. For allowing those commentators to do what they did, to pour that kind of divisiveness consistently is a poison, which is pretty unfortunate, which is going to stain his reputation forever.

“It’s hard because I’m fond of Rupert, but he and his son – maybe more than Rupert – have poisoned the atmosphere and that’s a bad place…

“He is the sun king, and when the sun shines for the sun king you can’t have a better atmosphere.

“There are wonderful parts of Rupert. The joyousness with which he fights establishments and fights to establish new things, many of them very good. When I said [in 1985] I thought working on a fourth network was a good idea he slapped his hand on his thigh and said let’s go.

“I said we’ve got to buy these stations, he said: ‘Great, go do it.’ A week later we had a deal to buy the backbone of the original Fox.”

Asked about Diller’s comments a Fox News spokesperson said: “For more than 21 years, Fox News Channel has been cable news’ most-watched network in all categories with more Democrats, Independents and Republicans now tuning in than either CNN or MSNBC.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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