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A society ruled by Google is a society with no voice

Governments must support local media in times of crisis and tax giants for the revenue they generate

Gulf News

I wonder how much Google, Facebook, Amazon and other global titans pay for licence fees in the UAE?

I assume they pay a similar amount like other companies despite the revenue they make from the market.

Amazon pays a similar amount to the grocery next door. And Facebook pays a similar amount to a barber shop in Satwa.

I hope I am wrong.

I would like to examine the damage done by these giants to our media first, and beyond that, to our economy because they are merely siphoning off revenue from the country and the region.

They are minting money without having to pay taxes in return or even higher fees. They also do not contribute in any way to the local economy.

Many countries have realised this fact — that they are being exploited. They have raised their voices against these giants and have thwarted their attempts to destroy their media, economy and businesses.

UAE’s ad and media firms locked in an unequal war

These countries have prevented the giants from jeopardising the interests of their businessmen and local companies.

But let’s limit the story and focus purely on the media. We know countries such as France and many in Scandinavia have decided to tax these companies to ensure that some money from the huge revenues these giants earn stays in the country.

In addition, these governments also provide direct aid and yearly subsidies to bolster the national media — both print and online.

It is also known that France is one of those countries that is doing its utmost to preserve and protect the interests of its print and national titles, either independent, government-owned, or belonging to a political party.

They have either been exempted from paying licensing fees, tariffs and other taxes or the government has reduced the amounts to ease the burden on these publishing houses.

So, why do these countries such as France take such steps to safeguard the interest of the national media and publishing houses? The answer to this question is very simple: To protect national interest.

Let’s imagine France without Le Monde. Let’s imagine France without Le Figaro. Or without L ‘Equipe and its sister Le Parisien. Imagine then that the French people would get their news from Google, Facebook and other sources — even the American media. This would never be allowed, not just in France, but in any other country — be it democratic or non-democratic.

And the fight against these titans would be tougher in democratic countries such as the United Kingdom and some nations in Europe.

Why?

It is because leaving local media in these countries at the mercy of companies such as Google amounts to posing a threat to democracy. There can be no democracy without a free national Press and without diversity.

Where do we stand here in the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council on this? How do we tackle this unfair war?

Giant status

First, we must implement some of the steps that countries such as France have taken — reduce taxes on local media outlets and raise fees payable by these giants that is equal to their stature.

Their giant status and businesses must attract taxes that are commensurate with their size and volume of trade.

Second, governments can step in and support national media in difficult times such as now and help them survive.

This can be done either through direct financing by the government or by instructing big local companies — governmental or semi-governmental — to advertise in local media, instead of changing their structure of payments and giving these giants big money and leaving only a few pennies for local media.

Priority on ad spending should be on the national media and not on international media.

Other steps could also include exempting local media from some taxes.

In fact, in doing this, it will not just benefit newspapers and news organisations, but it will be in favour of national interest and sovereignty.

Because if we do not have our own media, we will not have our own voice when we need it. National media is needed as a matter of national security.

It preserves our identity and social and cultural values — hallmarks of a vibrant society.

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