With increasing concerns about the market dominance of tech giants in the media, the recent Government announcement to bring forward the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill comes as no great surprise. Pressure from politicians, media businesses of all sizes and consumer groups, coupled with critical recommendations from the BEIS committee in October have forced the Government’s hand.
The Government’s commitment to bringing the Online Safety Bill back to the Commons on the 5th of December, further signals pressure for increased regulation for social media giants as it attempts to rein in the power of the big tech companies and bring an end to the era of self-regulation.
First announced in the Queen’s Speech in May, the Digital Markets Bill was introduced to answer Government concerns that existing tools to regulate competition are not suitable to deal with entrenched market power held by a small number of large digital firms. The proposals would give new powers to the Digital Markets Unit within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to tackle anti-competitive behaviour by tech giants and protect consumer rights; proposals that have been welcomed by many. It is now hoped that legislation will be brought forward in the New Year to implement this change.
New research by Ofcom has also identified concerns around the impact of online ‘gatekeepers’ on choice in news, highlighting the extent to which these companies determine not only how much of the online news we see, but also how we respond to it. The report concluded with calls for new regulations to better address the impact of online gatekeepers on media plurality, including tools to require tech firms to be more transparent over the choices they make in determining the news we see online, as well as giving users themselves more choice and control.
Impact and opportunities for business
Consumer groups will welcome these developments. Smaller companies will not be overregulated because a minimum revenue threshold will apply before they bite. This threshold serves to ensure that small companies fall outside the scope of the regulations. Whilst this is positive, small to medium enterprises will need to carefully monitor their revenue so as not to fall within the scope.
On the other hand, larger organisations will need to ensure they are following the recommendations to keep pace with a rapidly evolving and expanding policy arena. This is particularly important as the legislation will provide the CMA with new powers to fine companies as much as 10 per cent of their global turnover, and individuals can be fined up to £300,000, for breaches of consumer law.
As the Bill progresses through Parliament, organisations working in the media industry will need to engage in the legislative process, ensure their voice is heard, confirm that the proposed regulatory system and strategy delivers what Government ministers have claimed as their objectives, and also reflects what the media industry as a whole needs to compete in the future.