Kiwi news bosses say they can't compete with tech giants which use their news content for free

Kiwi news bosses say they can't compete with tech giants which use their news content for free
Photo credit: Getty Images

News bosses from across the country have travelled to Wellington to urge politicians to get big tech companies to pay for using their news content.

During a three-hour hearing at Parliament, key players in the news media from the boss of the Ashburton Guardian and heads of TVNZ and, to representatives from the radio and newspaper industry, gave their submissions on the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill.

The legislation, if passed, would require tech titans like Google and Meta (which runs Facebook and Instagram) to negotiate with New Zealand's media to pay them for using their content.

The argument is largely that if these companies are able take content written by New Zealand journalists for free, it is not a level playing field for Kiwi news businesses to compete on. 

Jana Rangooni of the Radio Broadcasting Association said without intervention, many of today's media outlets will be gone in a decade.

"I'm pretty confident you'll still have RNZ and TVNZ in ten years... But you certainly wouldn't be going... 'we'll all still be here.'

"Because we won't."

CEO of RNZ Paul Thompson pointed to the dozens of journalists currently covering the Port Hills fires helping keep the community safe, and said that might not be the case in 5-10 years time.

"A robust media system is not a nice to have," Thompson said.

"It's absolutely essential to us as a sovereign nation.

"It's essential to a cohesive and formed democracy."

He said the New Zealand media industry was "deeply challenged" by deteriorating business models and change was needed.

"We're not looking, as an industry, for a subsidy or a hand out.

"We're looking for a level playing field."

Owner of Sinead Boucher said no matter what news businesses do, they are "essentially running up a hill all the time trying to catch the platforms harnessing all the value".

"Journalism is in a fight for its life against the most powerful and profitable companies that have ever existed," she said.

"It is a losing battle when the value you are creating is flowing in its majority to the digital tech giants."

She explained how the news media's efforts to adapt to the changing digital landscape were futile against such giants.

"This is not a case of the failing news media somehow looking for a hand out or a safety net because we have failed to change our business models for the digital age." 

Boucher said the scale, dominance and unconstrained power of big tech companies give them the view that they are "above the law", and legislation was the only way to make the likes of Google and Facebook come to the table.

Editor of the New Zealand Geographic James Frankham said the stakes are high, with not only ageing print mastheads laying off staff in the US, but smaller digital news startups failing completely.

"Buzzfeed News has closed, as did Gawker and The Messenger which were the startup poster children for digital journalism.

"Analysts in the US have called it an extinction event."

He pointed out that the legislation won't force companies to pay, and suggested levying them on their domestic revenue to create an independent fund to support journalism.

Submitters also expressed concern about the rapidly evolving threat of artificial intelligence, including products like ChatGPT, which often uses information provided by newsrooms to respond to search queries, with no link to the source.