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‘We need to protect our journalists and the journalism industry from the impending decimation of the current news business model’ – Dr Normahfuzah

SINTOK, Jun 13 – Affordances by social media made it a popular platform for communication and news consumption. Similar to many other countries, news consumption via social media remains
significant. One of the top reasons most people utilise platforms is to stay up to date with news and current events. Therefore, social media is the current and the future. It is the way forward for any industry to remain relevant. With the complexity surrounding younger news consumers and their news consumption habits who are perpetually pinned to various social media platforms, it is
vital for news organisations to remain present on the platform.

Digital advertisements will become the dominant method of advertising with more digital consumption globally. Malaysia is no different. Digital advertising spending continuously increases with big corporations such as Google and Facebook taking on the lion’s share. While this is rewarding for some, it deprives others altogether. This includes news organisations that are challenged in sustaining their practice in the digital era. A fair market value to be paid for content access is important for the sustainability of news media organisations.

Deprivation of advertising revenue is not new and has been a global concern. Maintaining the business of a news organisation in an era where fleeting news has become the norm, thanks to social media’s fugacious nature, is an uphill battle. Journalists strive tirelessly to gather, produce and deliver accurate, verified news and their efforts should be compensated by decent wages. Yet, as we speak, the news media industry in Malaysia is forced to allow current market forces to dictate the news organisation’s pay shares and unfortunately, are compensated at lower than competitive levels.

Paid content is one solution. The imposition of concrete legislation which protects journalists and the journalism industry through the taxing of Tech Giants would benefit our local industry. The move as implemented by countries like Australia and some other developed nations may become
commonplace globally as efforts are set in place to boost journalism into the future. Thus, Tech Giants may be losing out if they opt not to adhere to the paid-news law (if implemented). Yet, every Tech Giant has the right to either adhere or not to the new law. Implementation of paid content law is a double-edged sword for while it may benefit media organisations, there is a risk that corporations such as Meta and Google may choose not to pay local news organisations. Newly established, online-based digital platforms may also be at the losing end if these Tech Giants only select some mainstream news portals to pay for their content. This has happened to some news organisations abroad – France is one example. Some countries that implemented the paid content policy looked into monthly traffic as a criterion. This would benefit renowned news outlets but becomes detrimental to non-mainstream ones.

From another perspective, such a move will push non-mainstream news outlets to compete with their mainstream counterparts in producing correct, verified, quality and diverse reporting. Having said that, it does not mean that journalists from non-mainstream outlets don’t practice what mainstream media practices. Numerous non-mainstream media exist and produce correct and verified content, but simultaneously offer news consumers different viewpoints than the majority. Alternative news media exists for unique reasons and their existence reflects Malaysia’s healthy democratic media practice.

The move towards paid content could be the right solution for the sustainability of news media organisations – if well implemented. So, before we impose any law, a balanced approach is needed which subsequently benefits news media organisations, Tech Giants and news consumers in Malaysia. Taking into consideration of Malaysian contexts and dynamics, perhaps we can emulate to some extent the California Journalism Preservation Act which protects journalism and its journalists. Through the Act, Tech Giants such as Google and Meta are required to share their advertising revenue with news organisations which include the sharing of at least 70 per cent of
its revenue towards the salaries of their journalists.

The complexity of the current market puts the journalism industry at risk. To ensure good
journalistic practice and to safeguard the jobs of our journalists, news media organisations need to be supported. Enforcement of a law to protect the revenue of the press will help news organisations
maintain their credibility through the production of verified and quality news. It is high time for us in Malaysia to stop the impending decimation of the news organisation’s business model. After
all, the implementation of any legislation that protects journalistic sustainability and the rights of its journalists serves the democracy of a nation through its support towards public interest journalism.

Normahfuzah Ahmad, PhD teaches journalism and media courses at the Universiti Utara
Malaysia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Malaya Post.

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