Tech giants will have pay ‘fair’ price for news content, says government

Online tech giants will have to abide by new rules aimed at making sure they pay a fair price for news content under plans announced by Boris Johnson’s government.

The Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will bring in a new code of conduct aimed at making sure Google and social media firms agree to “fair financial terms” for content published on their platforms.

The tech watchdog will also be granted fresh powers to issue fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover for non-compliance, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

The DMU regulator was set up last April with the aim of redressing the “imbalance” between tech giants such as Facebook and news publishers.

Based within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the tech watchdog was instructed to boost competition, set fair prices for content, as well as giving users more control over their data.

The DCMS has now confirmed it intends to go ahead with its proposals to further empower the regulator, following a consultation.

However, it is unclear when exactly the changes will come into force, as the government has only said the necessary legislation will be introduced “in due course”.

If legislation is passed, the DMU will have the power to enforce new tailored codes of conduct for firms dominating digital markets, outlining how they should treat their users and other companies fairly, with “tough sanctions” for those ignoring the rules.

Digital minister Chris Philp said “the dominance of a few tech giants is crowding out competition and stifling innovation”.

He added: “We want to level the playing field and we are arming this new tech regulator with a range of powers to generate lower prices, better choice and more control for consumers while backing content creators, innovators and publishers, including in our vital news industry.”

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said the Queen’s Speech on 10 May represented a “golden opportunity” for the government to introduce the legislation to empower the regulator.

“The rules governing competition in the UK’s digital markets are in desperate need of an upgrade, so it’s encouraging that the government intends to introduce new rules to tackle the entrenched power of tech giants,” she said.

“For the sake of UK consumers and businesses, it is essential that the Digital Markets Unit is properly empowered … the government must give it the tools it needs to do its job.”

Owen Meredith, chief executive of News Media Association, also urged the government to take advantage of next week’s Queen’s Speech: “This pro-competitive and pro-innovation intervention is long overdue and we now urgently need to get on with passing this important legislation so the DMU has the tools it needs to get on with the job.

“The Queen’s Speech on Tuesday is the obvious opportunity to take this forward via a Digital Competition Bill.”

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