Google pairs with European media to boost online journalism

LONDON (AFP) - US tech giant Google unveiled a 150 million euro (S$216.74 million) project Tuesday with eight European publishers to support online journalism after being accused of anti-competitive behaviour by EU regulators.

The online firm's Digital News Initiative is intended to "promote high quality journalism through technology and innovation," a top Google executive announced in London.

The company will try to develop products aimed at increasing news traffic, invest in digital training and research in the industry, and fund innovation in digital journalism.

"Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry," said Carlo D'Asaro Biondo, the firm's head of strategic partnerships in Europe.

"Over the years, our relationship with news and the news industry has often been misunderstood," he told media executives at the Financial Times Digital Media conference.

"We do want to play our part in the common fight to find more sustainable models for news."

News publishers have long complained that the Google News service takes traffic away from news media sites, and draws companies to pay for advertising in searches rather than in newspapers.

D'Asaro Biondo insisted: "Through search and news we send over 10 billion visits, for free, to publishers globally, each month." Earlier this month, the European Union formally charged Google with abusing its search engine's dominance and launched a sensitive probe into its popular Android mobile phone operating system.

Google accounts for about 90 percent of the EU search market.

- Journalism, technology 'working together' -

The Digital News Initiative brings together Les Echos in France, Germany's FAZ and Die Zeit, the Financial Times and The Guardian in Britain, NRC Media in The Netherlands, El Pais in Spain and La Stampa in Italy, as well as European media organisations.

Google will create a European publishers' working group to explore product development aimed at increasing revenue, traffic and audience engagement, D'Asaro Biondo said.

"Second, we will significantly increase our investments in training and research.

"Thirdly, we have allocated 150 million euros to stimulating and supporting innovation in digital journalism within the news industry.

"The purpose of this investment in innovation is to make grants available to projects which demonstrate new thinking in digital journalism... We want to stimulate and nurture ideas that come from those who are closest to the action."

He said the initiative was not about Google trying to "fix everything in the news industry." "But I'm convinced that we will achieve much more if journalism and technology work together rather than apart."

Amid complaints from news organisations which claimed the US firm was eating away at online revenues, Google shut its popular online news service in Spain to protest a law which would make it pay for content.

Meanwhile the British government in December slapped a new tax rate on multinational companies that seek to avoid paying their fair share to state coffers.

Earlier this month the European Commission said its preliminary view was that Google's search engine "infringes EU anti-trust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers." If found at fault under those rules, the company faces a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual sales - in Google's case, US$66 billion (S$87.36 billion) in 2014.

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