A project in Brazil seeks to get platforms to finance journalism

7 minutes
A project in Brazil seeks to get platforms to finance journalism
"Rain of money bills and newspapers", performed by Adobe Firefly.

Social networks and journalism have a difficult marriage. In times of crisis, clicks and reproductions of many media increase, but paid subscriptions and advertising do not follow the same course. The concentration of the advertising market in platforms, the decentralization of the content ecosystem and changes in consumer habits, among others, have journalism facing an existential dilemma.

A bill discussed last week in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies seeks to establish a compensation from social media to the media. According to the text presented by Congressman Elmar Nascimento, platforms with more than two million users in that country will have to pay the media for the use of journalistic content on their platforms.

The proposal is part of an initiative that seeks to update copyright rules in Brazil. However, it was previously included in the so-called " fake newsbill", another initiative currently under way to regulate social media platforms.

The measure could benefit legal entities with at least one year of existence that produce journalistic content in an original, regular, organized and professional manner and that maintain a physical address and an editor in Brazil. According to the text, journalistic content would be that which deals with facts, opinions and events of public interest, regardless of their format. The bill prohibits social media companies from removing journalistic content for the purpose of exempting themselves from payment.

The Direitos Na Rede coalition, which brings together more than fifty organizations in defense of digital rights in Brazil, has defended the project as a way of financing journalism. However, it called attention to the need for the remuneration to reach independent media, public and non-profit organizations.

The payment may be agreed between the platforms and the media, with the possibility of establishing collective negotiations. To set it, the volume of content, the scope of the publications and the investment of the media will be taken into account, taking as a reference the number of journalists they have contracted.

For Bia Barbosa, Reporters Without Borders' advocacy coordinator for Latin America, these criteria could be counterproductive, since the way they are proposed would favor large news conglomerates to a greater extent, while alternative projects with more specific audiences and reduced work teams would receive a smaller portion.

In addition, Barbosa points out the importance of devising mechanisms to avoid that the law ends up benefiting the production of uninformative or low quality content. For the time being, the bill contemplates as a requirement that paid publications observe "principles and values of conduct" in journalistic activity. However, it is not clear who would have the power to evaluate these criteria.

Over the past decade, programs such as the Google News Initiative and the Facebook Journalism Project have disbursed hundreds of millions of dollars to media outlets around the world through grants, advertising credits, training and donations. While these initiatives have served to fund public interest content, they have also fueled an asymmetrical relationship between media and platforms.

These agreements ultimately depend on the platforms and do not obey a public policy to promote journalism. On the other hand, as Charis Papaevangelou's research shows, in many cases they are subject to confidentiality agreements with little transparency before public opinion.

In recent months, social media companies have responded strongly to media remuneration proposals. This was the case in Canada with the Online News Act, which after its approval caused Meta to restrict access to news on its platforms. In turn, Google announced that it would eliminate links to Canadian media in the results of its search engine and other products. Reactions of the same kind occurred in Australia earlier this year following the discussion of a similar rule.

In May of this year, when the discussion of the " fake newsbill" was being prepared in Brazil, the platforms also deployed an operation to reject the attempted regulation, with alarm messages on their home screens and on their official channels, which at the time was pointed out by the Brazilian authorities as a misleading advertising campaign to manipulate the public debate. In the midst of this tense climate, the decision was made to remove from the bill the article on the remuneration of journalistic companies.

In other ways, some countries have proposed the creation of taxes or fees for social media to indirectly finance journalism and content of public interest. The discussion, however, is bogged down by the ambiguity and risks of the proposed rules, the interests of the rulers in power, the defensive response of the platforms and the loss of confidence in the mass media.

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