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June 29, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:26am

News Corp chief Robert Thomson: ‘Dysfunctional digital landscape’ rewards tech giants not publishers

By Charlotte Tobitt

News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said the “dysfunctional digital landscape”  disproportionately rewards distributors like Facebook and Google over the creators of journalism.

The former Times editor praised the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s plans to force tech giants to pay fair compensation for the journalistic content siphoned from news media, saying this was a “profoundly important” step.

Speaking on Thursday as part of a webinar for the American Australian Association, of which News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch is a patron, Thomson addressed what he described as an “existential issue for journalism”.

Noting that digital native publishers like Vice and Buzzfeed have struggled just as print titles have, Thomson said: “Journalism around the world is unsustainable… there’s something wrong with the ecosystem.”

Asked about the issues facing journalism in the UK, US and Australia, Thomson said they were similar “if not exactly the same” in terms of revenue sustainability but pointed to sweeping job losses in US newsrooms in particular where around a third of journalist jobs are estimated to have disappeared in the past ten years.

He also said News Corp’s recent decision to end print production for many of its local and regional titles in Australia was “not a decision taken lightly” but was needed “to ensure that we can do as much journalism as possible on as many platforms as possible”.

He said: “It’s indicative of the challenge that not only we face but publishers large and small, print and digital, are confronting around the world.

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“It is a dysfunctional digital landscape that the rewards have disproportionately gone to distributors not to creators, and it’s rectifying that imbalance that’s so important which is, you know, again back to the ACCC work and the Department of Justice in Washington, the Competition and Markets Authority in London.

“All the regulators have, they actually have been on a journey, and it’s become more and more obvious to them, the longer they’ve looked, the longer they’ve had experience with this debate, that whether it be journalism or some other professions, that unless you resolve these contradictions, the commercial damage is obvious, and the social harm will be profound.”

Thomson said News Corp has reached an agreement with Facebook in the US and that he believes the “Google gig is up” as the tech giant is pursued by regulators around the world and investigated by 50 US state attorneys general.

He said this progress only comes after his company has been “contending with literally battalions of lawyers and legions of lobbyists dragooned by big digital” for more than a decade.

In Australia, Facebook and Google  – dubbed the “Duopoly” because of their domination of the global advertising market – have both rejected the proposal to make them pay for news, saying publishers gain more from using their platform than they do for using the content.

But Thomson said: “The importance of the ACCC proposal is there absolutely has to be a mandatory code for content, for algorithms, and for personal data, because at the moment there’s a complete lack of algorithmic transparency.

“A tweet here and there and information or views or values do disappear in the rain and the data relationship between big digital and consumers is so obviously an unequal treaty.”

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