Row as Jacob Rees-Mogg is ‘framed’ for delaying Big Tech legislation until 2023: A Cabinet Minister denies that he is obstructing measures to require conglomerates to pay media for content.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is at the centre of a government spat over proposals to make digital behemoths like Google and Facebook pay newspapers and other media outlets for publishing their content, amid allegations that the Cabinet Minister was set up to stall the law.
The Digital Competition Bill was written to provide legislative authority to a new Digital Markets Unit (DMU), which would guarantee that social media firms pay fairly for news publishers’ content and do not strangle all competition in digital advertising.
The Bill was supposed to be tabled in the Queen’s Speech in May and discussed in the following parliamentary session, but top government sources claim it won’t be voted into law until late 2023.
According to the sources, Mr Rees-Mogg, the Brexit Opportunities Minister, was blocking it because it was ‘poorly designed’ and he opposed to over-regulation on principle.
Because of the delay, a proposed EU measure to discourage huge corporations from abusing their market dominance in Europe is likely to become law before the UK’s equivalent.
However, Mr Rees-friends Mogg’s refuted the assertion last night, saying he was in favour of the Bill – but was being framed by Government politicians who wanted to give precedence to legislation opening the way for the sale of Channel 4.
According to one ally, ‘No. 10 informed Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries that there was insufficient parliamentary time for both initiatives.’
‘When he was still Leader of the House, Jacob questioned whether the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport could deal with its different bills on time, but he has no objections to this Bill at all.’ They are attempting to implicate Jacob for the delay because they know it will be controversial with the media.’
‘I am not accountable for the legislative agenda since I am no longer leader of the House,’ Mr Rees-Mogg added. ‘I have nothing to do with this Bill.’
The Digital Competition ideas are based on an Australian approach in which platforms are encouraged to negotiate payment arrangements with news organisations. If the discussions fail, an impartial arbitrator decides on a reasonable price.
Ms Dorries said in February that she was considering introducing ‘Australia plus plus’ and ‘Australia with bolts on,’ since regulating so-called Big Tech will assist Britain’s media organisations survive in a period when most customers are used to obtaining their news for free online.
She went on to say that as a Health Minister, she seen “the pervasiveness of Big Tech,” and “I see what it’s doing to our democracy and our press from my department.”
Ms Dorries has told her officials that the DMU should be given ‘robust powers’ to ‘drive fair terms between publishers and platforms’ by instituting binding arbitration, and that the regulator should be ‘explicitly granted new powers to act swiftly and effectively where the regulator finds that a platform has not offered fair and reasonable remuneration for its use of publisher content.’
The DMU is also likely to be tasked with investigating the algorithms used by search engines such as Google, which many news organisations believe are manipulated to direct search enquiries disproportionately towards Left-leaning news organisations and filter how people read and access news, thereby undermining quality, paid-for journalism.
The Digital Markets Unit would also be granted the authority to slap significant penalties on internet corporations in order to avoid unfair treatment of consumers or enterprises, as well as to compel big titans to allow smaller competitors access to their massive troves of data.
Google and Facebook accounted for around four-fifths of the £14 billion spent on digital advertising in the United Kingdom in 2019, while national and local newspapers accounted for less than 4%.
Facebook claims that it already helps to support UK publications by paying tens of millions of pounds to national and local outlets to be part of Facebook News, as well as funding 80 trainee reporters in newsrooms throughout the country via the Community News Project.