In a move mirroring that of Australia which led to Google threatening to ban Search in the country, South Africa’s Competition Commission has announced that it has published the draft Terms of Reference (ToRs) for a market inquiry into the distribution of media content on digital platforms.

According to the commission, the inquiry has been set up to address existing market features in digital platforms that distribute news media content. The features are said to impede, distort, or restrict competition and which may have adverse implications for the news media sector of South Africa. This imbalance, according to the commission, can have implications on fair payment for content and the sustainability of independent journalism.

The inquiry will be underpinned by the value of a properly funded press to advance a well-functioning democracy, including the diversity of views from smaller media businesses and media owned by historically disadvantaged persons.

Furthermore, the inquiry will focus on the interaction and dependency of South African news media businesses on relevant digital platforms as an intermediary, distributor, and link to online users for the dissemination of news content online. This includes the impact, thereof, on news media businesses to aggregate, display, create, and monetise their news content online.

The main digital platforms that the inquiry will focus on include search engines, social media sites, video sharing platforms, and news aggregation platforms. It will also look at new technologies adopted by digital platforms, such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) search support, including ChatGPT.

The main focus will be on the significance these may have on the operations of businesses in the South African news media sector including news publishers and broadcasters.

In February 2021, Australia passed a world-first law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay for news content on their platforms. At the time the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) stated that publishers have had little negotiating power because they were so reliant on tech monopolies like Google and Facebook. Canada also has a similar law in the works, with a similar reaction from the tech giants.

Should the South African regulator come to the same decision as the ACCC, the decision has the potential to revolutionise how big tech works with media platforms in the country. In Australia, Facebook reacted to the decision by blocking all news content to Australians, a decision the social media giant later reversed.

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