Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|June 11, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

“If you understand it, you survive, if you don’t - you die.”

Everyone wants to know, no one wants to pay. That is the story of news and the internet.

Who pays the piper? This was one of the big questions of the Financial Times Future of News conference, on June 10, an enthralling virtual gathering of some of the world’s biggest media names who bared their soul on how they survived the pandemic.

The mood points to quality journalism backed by nimble digital platforms covering investigations and exclusives. Ironically, even the old-school newspapers have been quick to change. Among them Italian daily La República and Britain’s Sunday Times – the latter newspaper admits its average reader is likely to be a white male and aged 51 – have changed and prospered through digital change. La República has doubled its digital subscribers since last year.

“Technology is a revolution and it is cruel,” says La República editor Maurizio Molinaro.

“If you understand it, you survive, if you don’t – you die.”

As poetic as the justice dished, earlier this year, through a small victory in Australia.

Downunder Facebook and Google were in strife. They were taking news stories, written by major news organizations, and giving nothing in return. In short, the news rooms were spending a fortune gathering, sifting and editing stories and the social media platforms were getting the benefit of them for not one farthing.

The news outfits complained and the regulator stepped into a week of high stakes negotiations between Mark Zuckerberg and the Australian treasury.

Facebook and Google pulled the news off their platform and threatened to leave the country. It must have been a big concern to the big two online companies – if they had to pay for all the content, they used worldwide, it was likely to be very expensive.

At the centre of it all was Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“I spoke to a number of politicians saying they have never seen lobbying like they have seen from Facebook and Google…They hired a lot of lobbyists and lawyers. It was a very strong lobbying effort,” Sims told the conference.

“I think there is a lot of concern about technology companies. The rise of their platforms and their clear market power. This is a threat to competition.”

The Australian approach was simple – a bit of light- handed regulation, according to Sims, redressing an imbalance in the market. A new law simply saying that Facebook and Google had to negotiate a fee for news they used on their platforms; if no agreement is reached, the regulator can step in and decide upon a price tag.


There was criticism that the new law would merely serve to prop up Australian media giants like the Rupert Murdoch empire; don’t let big business run the internet complained Google and Facebook. Sims countered that the Murdoch’s Newscorp is merely equivalent to one per cent of Google.

“So, if there is a big business running the internet – it is Google,” says Sims with a chuckle.

Could it happen elsewhere in the world?

“There is no reason why other countries can’t do the same thing,” says Sims.

Africa must surely give it a thought.