Commentary

Facebook, Google need to start paying for news

This will help sustain the content creators aiding them in making such vast profits

Last Wednesday, nine European press agencies, including Agence France-Presse and Press Association, called for Facebook and Google to be forced into paying for using news content that helped these Internet giants reap huge profits.

"Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," said the agencies in a joint statement published in the French daily newspaper Le Monde.

"Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating (former president Robert) Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground," the statement continued.

News is the second most important reason for people to log into Facebook (checking updates of friends and loved ones is, unsurprisingly, the top reason), according to the statement.

I personally know of many who read only news that is shared by friends on their Facebook feed. And this has helped Facebook's total advertising revenue rise by 49 per cent in the third quarter this year to a sweet US$10.14 billion (S$13.65 billion).

In fact, Alphabet (Google's holding company) and Facebook were placed first and second respectively in global advertising revenue earnings last year, based on data by media agency Zenith.

Alphabet chalked up a whopping US$79.38 billion of advertisement revenue last year. Even 1 per cent of this amount would have greatly helped news gathering companies around the globe.

The traditional business model of newspapers has always been advertising. But with the advent of the Internet, global newspaper advertising revenue has fallen by 21 per cent over the past five years (from 2012 till last year), according to media association Wan-Ifra.

The traditional business model of newspapers has always been advertising. But with the advent of the Internet, global newspaper advertising revenue has fallen by 21 per cent over the past five years (from 2012 till last year), according to media association Wan-Ifra.

Many newspapers around the world have closed down. Reporters, sub-editors, copy editors and photojournalists have lost their jobs. This trend has hit home here as well, with the recent restructuring in this news organisation.

Ever since the Internet was born, people have been used to having news and content free. Often, I see my Facebook friends lambasting the digital advertisements that they have to "endure" when reading online news, or the monthly reading limits of some new sites.

But news gathering and content creation require both time and money. Keyboard warriors often criticise journalists for not spending more time in researching their stories, yet they would not pay a single cent in subscription.

Newspapers cannot force readers to pay for subscription. This is where the likes of Facebook and Google can help by sharing just a wee bit of their advertising revenue with news-gathering organisations.

In fact, it is only beneficial for the likes of Facebook and Google to start paying copyright fees to newspapers and press agencies. This is to sustain the very content creators that have helped them make such vast profits in the first place.

Imagine your Facebook feed filled only with cat videos and your friends' rants. Would you still use Facebook then?

It is almost immoral for these Internet giants to reap such massive profits from advertising, while newspapers around the world are falling like dominoes.

As TV host John Oliver once said: "Sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism or we are all going to pay for it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2017, with the headline 'Facebook, Google need to start paying for news '. Print Edition | Subscribe