7 December 2018
By Derek Wilding
The Centre for Media Transition has published a new report:
The report was commissioned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as part of its Digital Platforms Inquiry. The inquiry has been described as a world-leading investigation into the effects of digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms on competition in media and advertising services markets.
To assist the ACCC, the CMT was commissioned to research aspects concerning news and journalistic content. This included the function of journalism, effects of technology and how to consider quality and choice.
Some of the CMT’s observations are set out below:
- While the environment for production, distribution and consumption of news has changed dramatically, the value of journalism has not diminished. Its function as a public good persists and requires support.
- This environment and the new demands for content and shareability stretch the resources of news producers.
- Platforms offer unparalleled opportunities for distribution but also threaten the relationships and reach news producers have with audiences.
- There is conflicting evidence on the creation and effects of ‘filter bubbles and echo chambers’, and even on the overall impact of digital platforms on news and journalism. Some aspects are attributable to platforms, others to digitisation.
- Some of the negative effects of a platform environment, such as facilitating the spread of false information, are well-know and now the subject of responses from digital platforms. Two aspects that appear to present specific risks are sudden algorithmic changes and AI developments like extractive summaries.
- Platforms are now key participants in the broader framework for news media; they may not be publishers but they are a hybrid form of distributor with a different kind of responsibility.
- Specifically, platforms have an obligation not to harm the public benefit provided by news and journalism, which have qualities that set them apart from other products and services.
- In recognising their place within the current news ecosystem – though not explicitly as publishers – there is scope for digital platforms to help promote quality and diversity.
- In this environment, consumer choice and news diversity need to be understood according to patterns of consumption, not just availability of products and services. This calls for a more sophisticated understanding of the use of news recommender systems and the role of algorithms more generally.
The CMT did not look at impact on revenue or business models or as aspects such as personal privacy, which were considered separately by the ACCC.