Fair pay for a fair day’s work

It will come as little surprise to Otago Daily Times readers that this newspaper stands fully behind our media colleagues and competitors in supporting the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill.

Well of course you would, cynics might suggest, given the evident self-interest in the media in the passing of legislation which could result in a payout of millions of dollars to the industry.

But this proposed law change, which would compel tech companies like X, Meta and Google to sit down and negotiate with New Zealand’s media companies to recompense us for decades of free use of our intellectual property is nothing more than, as the News Publishers Association has said, trying to level a very uneven playing field.


For better or worse, the media landscape has shifted from newsprint, radiowaves and television screens, to one where digital reigns supreme. Odds are if you are reading this, it is on a cellphone or tablet computer rather than having turned from page 5 to page 6 of the broadsheet.

And it is here where the imbalance starts. Someone else owns the internet, not the media — and certainly not media companies in small and far away New Zealand.

As soon as www.odt.co.nz begins publishing our stories, the internet grabs those stories and pushes them far and wide.

But the social media site people are reading ODT stories on is not owned by our parent company Allied Press: it is owned by a huge multi-national and having all that rich content to put in front of its readers earns that multi-national company a lot of money in advertising revenue, all fuelled by content for which it did not pay.

Media companies the world over suffer from this problem, and other countries — notably Australia and Canada — have recognised the inherent unfairness of the situation and passed legislation which has obliged the tech companies to sit down and bargain a fair price with newspapers, radio and television companies for use of their digital content.

We want New Zealand to follow suit, and we want it to do so because for most media companies this is a matter of survival. State-backed broadcasters such as RNZ and TVNZ have some security, but private sector media companies have to sell our journalism to keep the doors open and to continue producing local news stories.

The biggest companies do have some sway in trying to bring the tech giants to the table, but not that much: as overseas examples have shown, cries for a fair deal have fallen on deaf ears until the firms have been made to listen.

And a law change which aids all players in the diverse New Zealand media market is essential. If NZME and Stuff struggle to get Google to answer their calls, what chance the Wairarapa Times Age, the Ashburton Guardian and the Greymouth Star?

The big companies are in desperate enough straits, but they can at least offer advertising sales on a national scale; that is something that a small paper, which has been the lifeblood of its community for a century or more, cannot provide.

Every time a story from those centres is read for free somewhere else, that is valuable revenue lost which could make the difference between keeping the lights on or not.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and for all the talk of AI, ChatGPT is not going to report on the Green Island v Taieri senior club cricket game, ask questions about the Dunedin City Council’s roading policy, or monitor the building of the new Dunedin hospital.

The olden days may not have been paradise, but will the parking lot being put up in its place be an improvement? This is not a case of the media not moving to meet market conditions, this is a situation where another market entirely has been set up elsewhere and it is essentially selling someone else’s property.

Tech companies are happy about that because it makes them money and costs them nothing.

But eventually, unless nothing is done to circuit-break that situation, it will mean titles closing and communities losing their sources of local information and the first draft of their history.

People in Otago often complain that national media organisations ignore what happens in their region.

You can multiply that problem tenfold and then some if Allied Press and other media companies cannot extract a fair price from companies making a profit from our work and who have not paid for it.