Since early last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the whole world and all walks of life. Hong Kong’s newspaper industry, which was already struggling before the pandemic, has fared badly as advertising revenue plunged. Many newspapers have seen sharp reductions in their profits or suffered losses, and some have even been forced to cut cost by laying off staff.
Due to the high cost of operation, local newspapers have been striving to explore new business models in recent years, including the development of online advertising. At the end of last year, members of The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong pulled their strength together to raise the competitiveness of the industry by setting up Newsoc Hub, a one-stop online advertising platform. It has since boosted the revenue of participating newspapers and achieved satisfactory promotion for advertisers.
However, in developing online advertising, local newspapers face highly unfair competition posed by the predatory business practices of social media and search engine platforms. By combining news content with other information, these platforms have built up a high volume of traffic to their sites. They then exploit the scale of their dominance to get the lion’s share of the revenue generated, leaving the local news media with a meagre return that does not correspond to the amount of resources deployed to produce the news content. Hong Kong’s outdated Copyright Ordinance has failed to keep up with the times and is unable to provide the necessary protection that content producers need. In the face of massive business manipulation, local media are unable to obtain a reasonable return for the original content they produce. The high cost and low return of producing and safeguarding news content has caused not just hardship to the media operators but also worsened the media ecology. As editorial resources dry up and remuneration for journalists drops, the negative impact on the society is becoming more and more apparent.
In the West, where web-based media originated, efforts have been made to rectify this anomaly in the media industry. In February, the Australian parliament passed the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which seeks to address the unbalanced bargaining power between the news media and digital platforms. The law has a profound impact on the technology giants and the ecology of the news industry by targeting the hegemony of those giants and safeguarding the value of news. As Hong Kong has also been subject to the predatory practices of the technology giants and social media platforms, there is a dire need to create a business environment with a level playing field for the newspaper industry. The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong calls on the government to start studying the introduction of a “payment for news” policy so that the technology giants will have to pay news outlets for using their content. Only then would the news industry be able to secure a reasonable return and safeguard the value of news and journalism.
The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong has always steadfastly upheld the principles of putting the public interest first and promoting social progress by safeguarding the quality of journalism and abiding by the professional code of conduct. On behalf of the society, I would like to convey my heartfelt gratitude to our sponsors and panel of judges for supporting our efforts to recognize outstanding works of journalism through the Hong Kong News Awards every year. Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s award. My thanks also go to other members of the newspaper industry for their contributions to the profession. Looking ahead, The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong will continue to foster the development of the industry by raising professional standards.