Question: How can the newspaper industry ask for more regulation for Google and Facebook whilst fighting against any state control over itself?
Answer: Because largely what it is asking for is simply a level playing field.
And because as a society we are fast approaching the point where we need to ask ourselves what we would rather protect: The ability to share amusing photographs of cats, or probing independent journalism which enables democracy to function and an open society to flourish.
In fact we can have both, but only if the giant US-based platforms are curbed and forced to return a fair share of their profits to the originators of the content which much of their wealth is based upon.
Matters have come to a head because of the debate around fake news – fictional stories deliberately fabricated to sway elections or siphon off cash from unwitting advertisers.
In its response to a parliamentary inquiry, the News Media Association says fake news it is not yet a major issue in the UK – but it could be.
And the NMA has taken the opportunity to urge MPs to take a closer look at those who profit from fake news and allow it to flourish through their negligence: Google and Facebook.
The trade body for the newspaper industry warns that by 2020 some 70 per cent of the money spent on UK advertising online will go to this pair. And that means they will be getting the lion’s share of advertising full stop.
They will be like a pair of alpha predators gorging themselves on all the available food in the ecosystem. If this is allowed to happen it will inevitably lead to the extermination of many smaller media operators. News publishers will go to the wall, our media will be less diverse and our society less well informed.
So many billions of pounds which could be supporting original content, including journalism, will instead be swallowed up by these tax-dodging US conglomerates.
Surely it is worth pausing and asking ourselves whether as a society this is something which we want to happen.
On the regulation front, the news industry is not being hypocritical. It is simply suggesting that these new media platforms be subject to the same laws which every media platform which has gone before them obeys.
Newspapers employ expensively-trained journalists and lawyers to ensure everything they publish is compliant with the UK’s complex laws of defamation, privacy and contempt of court.
Facebook, Google and other new media platforms publish whatever they wish with gay abandon, instead employing expensive lawyers and accountants to find ever more creative ways to ensure they can avoid paying a fair tax contribution.
Newspapers, and news websites for that matter, are constrained by the laws of copyright from stealing each others’ work so have to either buy or create everything they publish.
Google and Facebook publish huge amounts of journalism expensively-created by others protected by generous copyright exemptions under EU law.
So no, when the newspaper industry asks Parliament to look again at Google and Facebook it is not hypocritical special pleading. It is simply a plea for a fair and equal application of the rules governing those who publish content.