‘Digital platforms gobbling ad revenue from news’

Indian Newspaper Society (INS) flags this in a letter to I&B ministry

Tech platforms such as Google and Facebook are gobbling almost 85% of digital advertising even though they operate on unfair commercial terms as compared to the Indian media companies, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has told the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry through a letter.

The letter said that there was “no transparency regarding advertising rates and the commission from these companies”. A grouping of radio operators have also separately written to the government highlighting the financial crisis their members are facing and sought a support package.

INS president Shailesh Gupta has written to I&B secretary Amit Khare to seek creation of a level playing field for the Indian media organizations vis-a-vis the foreign tech platforms that operate beyond the law.

The operational costs of Indian media organizations were increasing year on year, but they don’t get anything from digital advertising, he said.

“More than 85% of the digital advertising of Rs. 15,000 crore last year went to these tech giants, leaving almost nothing for Indian media companies. Indian media companies have been raising this unfortunate situation for years. There is also no transparency regarding advertising rates and the commission from these companies,” Gupta said.

He said if corrective action is not taken, there could be closure of many regional or even national titles. The INS letter reflects growing concern in many parts of the world around how these platforms operate.

Gupta mentioned in the letter that the Indian media is going through troubled times because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown.

“As an essential service, we continue to work overtime during this lockdown to bring the latest news and information pertaining to the pandemic. We are also battling the fake news virus that is prevalent on social media,” Gupta said. His reference is to unsubstantiated and sometimes inflammatory content that sometimes finds its way onto such platforms, which do not have the same responsibility or liability as media firms for the content they showcase.

Indian media companies report and produce the news and these tech giants walk away with all the revenue, the INS letter said.

Gupta’s letter listed several issues which the INS has been raising: tax status of tech platforms, jurisdiction of Indian laws over them, fake news, search results hurting quality journalism and lack of copyright recognition for use of content.

In another development, the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI), has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek support. The body previously wrote to I&B minister Prakash Javadekar seeking waiver of a year on all licence fee and government charges; the restoration of government advertising on radio; clearance of past government dues; and the deferment of advance payments for 2020-21.

AROI said that the ministry had granted them a three-month extension of license fee payments without interest. While this will reduce the pressures on the industry to some extent, the support is much less than what was requested, it said in its letter.

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