Journalists all over the world have, through their unions, told Facebook and Google to recognise the media as an essential service and stop exploiting them.
In speaking out against Facebook and Google, journalists say they want to secure, support and sustain public-interest journalism on radio and television, in print and across digital platforms. They called on governments around the world to take urgent steps to protect and sustain news and information. The use of tax and fiscal policy, public advertising campaigns, job retention subsidies and other measures are all vital to tackling the economic crisis facing media, the pointed out.
“As unions representing journalists and media professionals we commit to advocate, lobby, campaign and act together around these principles, to rebuild journalism as a public good.
The International Federation of Journalists IFJ, The NewsGuild-CWA (USA), National Writers Union (USA), National Union of Journalists (UK and Ireland), CWA Canada – The Media Union (Canada), UNIFOR (Canada) and MEAA (Australia), among others, want Facebook to uphold the principle of the right to access information and freedom of speech.
In a statement released in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday barely hours after Facebook ended a standoff with Australia’s government over its proposed News Media Bargaining Code, which if passed into law, will compel the social media giants to share proceeds with media organisations and journalists, the professional bodies want news-gathering and dissemination to be upheld as an essential service.
The unions noted, “Journalism is a public good. Journalism is essential for democracy. In the midst of a global pandemic the need for quality, independent information is vital.”
As the row between Facebook and Australian government threatened to get out of control after the former blacked out the latter, the unions painted a gloomy outlook of “across the world, journalists’ jobs are being axed, media are closing down and information is being censored, restricted or used simply as a commodity to be bought and sold by hedge funds, corporations and tech giants.”
Facebook – by blocking news and public information sites in Australia – stands exposed as caring more about its profits than citizens’ rights to access information.
Worldwide, corporations are closing down local papers to protect their bottom-line at the expense of rural, local, community news. News deserts are a symptom of the changing climate in which journalism operates. Above all they create a democratic deficit, the unions lamented.
The statement further, “As unions representing tens of thousands of journalists and media professionals across all media we stand for an alternative. We condemn unreservedly the actions of Facebook in blocking news sites in a show of corporate power, in a threat to governments everywhere.
The journalists also took issue with Google’s earlier threats to switch off its services in Australia.
“These companies cannot use the free flow of information as a bargaining chip to defend their power and profits. Both companies have done all they can to avoid any regulation. While we welcome steps taken by the Australian government to make tech giants like Facebook and Google pay for the news content they profit from, we do not believe the solution is to be found in individual private commercial deals that lack transparency,” the unions say.
Journalists want media companies to take bigger and bolder steps to ensure that any money raised does not just go to propping up the same monopoly media owners. They want monies to be used transparently to build and sustain a genuinely public-interest media that supports, among others, community, not-for-profit and local media.
“Such funds should not be used to fund more mergers and acquisitions or reward shareholders but to pay journalists a fair share of the profits made from their work, to retain professional journalists’ jobs, to save public-interest media, to build new and more diverse voices,” they say.
According to the unions, Facebook and Google are guilty of excessive profiteering. They say it is time “not only to make them pay a fair share for the content they use but to level the playing field.”
They questioned, “If your local newspaper or local radio station has to pay tax why are Facebook and Google allowed to avoid and evade their social responsibilities?”
It is the unions’ position that if governments were to tax their revenues or their profits, an independent fund could use those revenues to support a news recovery plan, saving jobs, sustaining media, supporting new voices.
They pointed out that the industry could not only retain jobs but build and sustain new media and voices, assuring more diversity, more quality information and more jobs.
The receipt of any funds must be strictly conditioned on investing in journalism, they demanded.
“Journalism should not just be a business – nor can it just rely on charity, philanthropy or the crumbs from the tech giants’ table. The pandemic has proved it must serve above all the public interest. We need to secure, support and sustain public-interest journalism on radio and television, in print and across digital platforms,” the unions argue.
The want governments around to take urgent steps to protect and sustain news and information. The use of tax and fiscal policy, public advertising campaigns, job retention subsidies and other measures are all vital to tackling the economic crisis facing media.
“As unions representing journalists and media professionals we commit to advocate, lobby, campaign and act together around these principles, to rebuild journalism as a public good,” they averred.
- A Tell report