Secure Indian interests: Ensure fair play in media | India News

Intellectual property that holds value can take valuable resources to create. This has been obvious in the information age. And its creation needs the incentive of fair rewards. Clarity on this part, on what drives the viability and quality of output, was held back in India for decades by a weak policy emphasis on profitability in particular and incentives in general. Our market reforms began to get motives in sync with commercial reality. But markets can also get distorted if a power asymmetry results in an unfair split-up of returns. And should a market fail to correct itself, the government must intervene. In the case of Indian news publishers whose work is routinely used by Big Tech firms for their own business ends, New Delhi has made its stance explicit. Last week, India’s minister of state for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar indicated that a legislative option was being weighed which would effectively make Google, Meta, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter and Amazon pay Indian news- papers and -websites a slice of revenue for using their original content. This is welcome. It would not just be fair, it will serve the national interest. For democracy to thrive, we cannot let Indian news originators dedicated to truth, accuracy and Satyamev Jayate weaken financially.

It’s a global worry. In 2014, Spain took a cue from Germany and tried enacting its own pay mandate. Google News withdrew from the Spanish market, but only to return recently with a clutch of deals with publishers under the EU’s copyright rules of 2019 that marked the end of a market-wide free ride. French media also saw a flurry of sign-ups thanks to new rules. This May, the global search giant declared it would compensate over 300 EU publications for their feed. Last year, Australia passed a law to assure its local media a fairer share; while it was milder than its first draft, as it ran into a Google exit threat and Facebook news blackout, it did address a glaring power gap and help the Aussie press get a better bargain. India, Canada, France and the UK were among the countries whose leaders Australia’s then prime minister said he had discussed that law with. Canada has moved its own version. What unites these efforts is a publicly recognized need to restrain the clout of outsized online news dispensers. India also needs to fend off the risk of vital home coverage suffering deficiencies should local media earnings be squeezed by a shift to digital consumption under Big Tech dominance. As Chandrasekhar said, “The market power on digital advertising that is currently being exercised by the Big Tech majors, which places Indian media companies at a position of disadvantage, is an issue that is seriously being examined….” Legal leverage available to Indian news generators would help undo distortions wrought by internet gateways.

Last year, the Indian Newspaper Society and Digital News Publishers Association hauled Google to India’s regulator of rivalry, alleging its abuse of a dominant position in laying out terms for news aggregation. A probe is underway and its findings could inform our redressal of a fair-play problem. The affected sector in this case, however, isn’t just another field of business. The media constitutes an important institution that upholds core Indian values and supports national sovereignty. Since Big Tech may seek to test our resolve on the latter, as we’ve seen elsewhere, this is not just about a market failure, it’s about governance in the age of globalization. It’s about our reformist will. What’s unfair must not be allowed to go on.

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