As press publishers, we know what our rights and responsibilities are as media companies operating under the rule of law but, in the minds of many, the definition of publisher has become totally blurred. There are huge and important differences in terms of legal and moral responsibilities between press publishers and the digital platforms and aggregator sites which behave like publishers, especially when you might search and find our content on their properties.
Publishers are first and foremost media companies, but they are also high-tech platforms and communities of interest providing not only journalistic content, but features, sports reports or entertainment, and information about the issues you care about. The likes of Google and Facebook are first and foremost tech and advertising companies but they are also undeniably publishers too.
Press publishers are legally responsible for the content they produce. In the wake of the fake news scandal at Facebook and seeing how Google places advertising from respectable companies alongside hate speech videos on YouTube, we see citizens and regulators starting to question the ‘mere host’ defence of these platforms, and demanding that the tech-publishers take their social and legal responsibilities seriously and take action to protect brands and consumers from harm.
Digital publishing means that information and content of all kinds have been hugely democratised. A major incident occurs, and we can follow the event in real-time as witnesses post their pictures and accounts to social media. But fake news travels as fast as fact; subjective accounts travel in the blink of an eye without verification. We will always need the professional journalist, trained to seek out the truth and who is bound by strict codes of conduct to fact-check and whose publisher is legally liable for the content which is published. We will always need the free, independent press to hold those in power to account, to fund investigative reporting, to run foreign desks, to reach out to every audience from the most specialist interest to national and to local communities. Our democracy is supported by a professional press and our society is enriched by it.
The internet has had such an extraordinarily positive impact on the world that it has been tempting for many to demand its total freedom, regardless of its impact on anyone and anything else. As the Chairman of Impresa in Portugal, Francisco Pinto Balsemão says: “The internet is the most brilliant invention of our time but we must not allow it, its unruly adolescent years, to destroy the media that are the very essence of civilised society.”
We hope that this information and insight will make a valuable contribution to the political debate on our sector, and that, if you are committed to a democratic Europe with an independent and pluralistic media landscape, you will feel inspired to get involved with our initiative, www.empower-democracy.eu.