Rupert Murdoch to Facebook: pay up

Murdoch and Trump: Frenemies with benefits
Murdoch and Trump: Frenemies with benefits

Rupert Murdoch has long expressed frustration with how companies like Facebook and Google use news content. Now the executive chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox is upping the ante, calling on Facebook to pay publishers a carriage fee the way cable companies pay for channels.

"Facebook and Google have popularized scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable. Recognition of a problem is one step on the pathway to cure, but the remedial measures that both companies have so far proposed are inadequate, commercially, socially and journalistically," Murdoch said in a lengthy statement on Monday.

Facebook has recently announced significant new changes to how it will treat news publishers on its platform. On Friday, the social network announced it will survey users to rate news organizations and assign them trust scores and then use those scores, along with other factors, to decide how much to show the source in people's news feeds. The scores will not be made public.

That announcement came one week after Facebook said it is tweaking its News Feed to show more posts from users' friends and family and fewer from brands and companies. That tweak will mean news will make up just 4 percent of a user's newsfeed, down from 5 percent, Facebook said.

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In his statement, Murdoch said that he has no doubt Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is "sincere person," but he blasted what he called a "lack of transparency" in the new process and said that it should "concern publishers and those wary of political bias at these powerful platforms."

"The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize 'trusted' publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies," Murdoch said. "The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services. Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook's profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists."

Owners of television channels typically charge cable providers a fee to carry their networks, called a carriage fee. That cost is then passed on to the consumer. Carriage fees are a critical part of how cable networks make money, as they are a more reliable source of revenue than advertising.

Murdoch's comments came on the same day that Facebook acknowledged more forcefully than it has in the past that the platform can have the unintended consequences of spreading misinformation and undermining democracy.

Attempts to get Facebook and other tech companies like Google to pay for news are not new. The News Media Alliance, a trade group which represents the print and digital news industry, is seeking a limited antitrust exemption from Congress in order to win the right to negotiate collectively with online platforms like Facebook and Google, as part of an effort to get their members a better deal when the sites use their content. Critics and observers say that after years of publishers giving the tech companies their content for free, attempts to get them to pay now are unlikely to succeed unless the publishers can form a unified front.

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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