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Big tech and journalism: Principles for fair compensation

The Big Tech and Journalism - Building a Sustainable Future for the Global South conference was held from 13 to 14 July 2023 at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) in Johannesburg. Hosted by the Gibs Media Leadership Think Tank, the conference brought together over 70 journalists, news publishers, media organisations, scholars, activists, lawyers, and economists from 24 countries to discuss solutions to the crisis of the sustainability of journalism and its intersection with the role of major tech platforms.
Michael Markovitz, head: Gibs Media Leadership Think Tank, Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), South Africa
Michael Markovitz, head: Gibs Media Leadership Think Tank, Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), South Africa

The conference aimed to share lessons learned, and identify commonalities within and across regions with regard to media sustainability initiatives via legislation and competition authorities. Robust discussions were held on the experiences of countries which have already or are considering implementing such initiatives to sustain journalism, as well as the challenges of doing so in other countries with large media industries but severe sustainability challenges. The conference featured panel discussions focusing on South Africa, Australia, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, as well as a series of keynotes by distinguished speakers.

Video recordings of the conference can be viewed here.

The conference culminated in the adoption of ‘Big tech and journalism: Principles for fair compensation’ (the principles). The principles are intended to be universal, serving as a framework for any country seeking to address media sustainability through competition or regulatory approaches, while enabling adaptation to the unique context. It is hoped that the principles will represent an important step forward in addressing news media sustainability in the tumultuous era of big tech.

This site includes downloads of the full conference report as well English, French, Spanish and Portuguese translations of the principles. Additional language versions of the principles and further endorsements will be added in due course. Here are the principles:

Big tech and journalism: Principles for fair compensation

These principles are intended to help in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policy mechanisms that oblige digital platforms and news publishers to engage with each other to develop fair economic terms.

The principles recognise freedom of expression as a foundational human right underpinning democracy and support public interest journalism as a public good that should be available to all. Any mechanisms pertaining to the principles must therefore be founded on the same commitment.

For the purposes of these principles, ‘platforms’ mean social media, chat, search engines, generative artificial intelligence models and applications, and other such intermediaries. By ‘publishers’ we mean providers of original print, digital, or broadcast news using any combination of text, audio and visual media.

Policymakers in different jurisdictions will use different policies to achieve similar aims, so we refer to these simply as ‘mechanisms’ throughout. Rather than set detailed expectations for these different mechanisms, we propose overarching principles that should apply in a wide range of contexts, including between platforms and publishers

  1. Public interest
  2. Mechanisms should support and invest in public interest journalism, by which we mean news and information produced to professional journalistic standards which informs the public about matters that are relevant to their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Mechanisms may also have the effect of supporting other forms of journalism, but – other things being equal – they should prioritise the support of public interest journalism.

  3. Plurality
  4. Mechanisms should support plurality in the platform and publishing markets. In particular, mechanisms should have a net positive impact on the plurality of publishers in a market. They should not create a bias in favour of incumbent publishers or platforms but should serve to mitigate any incumbency bias so that the public can – in the medium to long term – benefit from a greater range of platforms and publishers. Very small, medium and start-up publishers must be able to benefit.

  5. Diversity
  6. Mechanisms should support diversity in the news publishing market and should have a net positive impact on the range of content, voices and languages represented in the news market, including the voices of historically underrepresented and marginalised groups. They should not create a bias in favour of historically dominant voices.

  7. Sustainability
  8. Mechanisms should support sustainability in the news publishing market, for individual publishers and the sector as a whole, by ensuring they receive fair compensation for the use of their intellectual property and content. Mechanisms should adapt to evolving market conditions and enhance the likelihood that publishers can build diverse revenue streams.

  9. Fairness
  10. Mechanisms should ensure that terms of engagement between platforms and publishers are consistent across a market, and do not allow individual platforms or publishers to strike preferential arrangements. This does not mean that all platforms should give all publishers the same amount of money. But it does mean that the basis for payments and usage deals should be the same for all publishers in that market, and determined using objectively verifiable criteria. Platforms should not be able to favour certain publishers simply because those publishers have greater political influence or larger market capitalisation, for example. It also means that all deals between platforms and publishers should be agreed upon in a similarly timely manner and that neither party should be able to use their comparative bargaining power to drag out negotiations.

  11. Collectivity
  12. Small and medium-sized publishers should be allowed to coordinate their efforts, which may include collective bargaining with platforms.

  13. Transparency
  14. The highest possible degree of transparency should be adopted for both the process by which policy interventions are designed and implemented as well as the outcomes obtained. Both platforms and publishers should adopt the highest possible degree of transparency so that all parties can judge the fairness of any deal and so that third parties can assess and evaluate the impact of the mechanism as a whole. For example, mechanisms may require platforms and publishers to share data about the size and behaviour of their audiences and advertising placements. Considerations may still be given to competition concerns. Where personal or commercially sensitive data is involved, it may be shared only between the parties and with any enforcement body. All information should be shared with the public when suitably aggregated and anonymised.

  15. Accountability
  16. Mechanisms should not inhibit the freedom of publishers, through their journalism, to hold platforms accountable for their actions, or the freedom of platforms to criticise publishers. The terms of engagement between them should be openly published to ensure that all parties can be held accountable and to build confidence with the public.

    Third-party assessors that are independent of any enforcement body should be able to review these mechanisms and their outcomes. They must have the power to make recommendations to such a body and, where necessary and appropriate, legislatures. They should ensure a meaningful opportunity for public consultation on the performance of the mechanisms.

  17. Independence
  18. Mechanisms should be overseen and enforced by bodies that are demonstrably independent of both the platform and publishing industries. Whilst these bodies may, where appropriate, be established and funded by national or regional governments, they must be operationally independent of political influence and sufficiently well-funded to mitigate any risk of undue interference. Enforcement bodies should have clear aims and objectives to allow industry, researchers, civil society, and the public to determine whether or not they are meeting these aims and objectives.

  19. Outcomes
  20. Mechanisms should be outcomes-oriented, with the principles of public interest, plurality, diversity, and sustainability of the media at their heart. They should be assessed against these outcomes on a regular basis by independent third parties, who should be in a position to publish an honest and robust critique of the performance of the mechanisms.

Adopted on 14 July 2023

These principles were adopted by participants at ‘Big tech and journalism – Building a sustainable future in the global south,’ a conference held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 14 July 2023.

The principles have been endorsed by:

Alexis Johann, managing partner, FehrAdvice & Partners AG, Zürich, Switzerland

Anton Harber, director, Campaign for Free Expression, South Africa

Dr Anya Schiffrin, senior lecturer of Practice, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, United States of America (U.S)

Bruce Mutsvairo, professor and Unesco chair on Disinformation, Data and Democracy, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Camille Grenier, operations director, Forum on Information and Democracy, France

Dr Chamil Wariya, chairman, Malaysian Press Institute (MPI), Cyberjaya, Malaysia

Churchill Otieno, executive director, Eastern Africa Editors Society, and chairman Africa Media Convention, Kenya

Dr Courtney Radsch, fellow UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy and director, Center for Journalism and Liberty, US

Dr Dinesh Balliah, director, Wits Centre for Journalism, Wits University, South Africa

Edetaen Ojo, executive director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria

Emma McDonald, executive director, Impact Missions, Minderoo Foundation, Australia

Franz Krüger, associate professor, NLA Mediehøgskolen, Kristiansand, Norway and associate researcher, Wits Centre of Journalism, South Africa

Hamadou Tidiane SY, journalist, founder of E-jicom and Ouestaf news, Senegal

Hani Barghouthi, campaigns manager, Public Interest News Foundation, United Kingdom

Izak Minnaar, independent journalism consultant and trainer, South Africa

Dr Iyobosa Uwugiaren, general secretary, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigeria

Jonathan Heawood, executive director, Public Interest News Foundation, United Kingdom

José María León-Cabrera, CEO, on behalf of GK Ecuador, Ecuador

Joseph E. Stiglitz, university professor, Columbia University, Nobel Laureate 2001, U.S

Justine Limpitlaw, honorary adjunct professor, LINK Centre, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Kate Skinner, director, Association of Independent Publishers, South Africa

Lawrence Gibbons, publisher, Star Observer and City Hub, co-chair of Public Interest Publishers Alliance (PIPA), Australia

Michael Karanicolas, executive director, UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy, US

Michael Markovitz, head: Gibs Media Leadership Think Tank, Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), South Africa

Nancy Booker, associate professor and dean, Graduate School of Media and Communications, Aga Khan University, Kenya

Natalia Viana, executive director: Agência Pública, and Havard Nieman Fellow 2022, Brazil

Nelson Yap, publisher of Australian Property Journal, co-chair of the Public Interest Publishers Alliance, Australia

Paul-Joel Kamtchang, founder-executive secretary, ADISI-Cameroun, Cameroon

Sasmito, president, Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia

Sekoetlane Phamodi, director, New Economy Campaigns Hub, South Africa

Dr Selay Marius Kouassi, independent journalist, consultant and trainer, founder and executive director IRAF (Information Resilience Africa), Côte d’Ivoire

Sibusiso Ngalwa, chairperson, South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), South Africa

Tania L. Montalvo, independent journalist, Mexico

Uyanda Siyotula, national coordinator, SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, South Africa

Wahyu Dhyatmika, secretary general, Indonesian Cyber Media Association (AMSI), Indonesia

Vibodh Parthasarathi, associate professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India (in personal capacity)

William Bird, director, Media Monitoring Africa, South Africa

Zoé Titus, director, Namibia Media Trust (NMT), Namibia


BBC Media Action, United Kingdom

Digital Journalism Association (Ajor), Brazil

Campaign for Free Expression, South Africa

Eastern Africa Editors Society

Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA), Argentina

Media Monitoring Africa, South Africa

Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigeria

Open Markets Institute, U.S

Ouestaf News, West African online news platform, Senegal

Publisher Interest Publishers Alliance (PIPA), Australia

Public Interest News Foundation, (PINF), United Kingdom

SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, South Africa

South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), South Africa

Vladimir Herzog Institute, Brazil

Gordon Institute of Business Science
(GIBS) has been built around its intent to significantly improve responsible individual and organisational performance, through high-quality business and management education.
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