Hassle-FREE Online Campaigns On Sweech
Fin24 has taken a literal – and self-serving – approach to the concept of a free press. This subsidiary of the wealthy and powerful Naspers group seems to interpret it as meaning that it is free to use whatever news stories it can access on the internet in the promotion of its own financial interests.
Traditionally, the free press has been interpreted as the freedom to disseminate information and ideas without restriction from government or other vested interests. It is likely that when the Right2Know campaign talks about keeping the press free it means protecting the media’s right to access and disseminate information, freely and fairly without fear or favour.
Leaving aside that this right comes with duties that we in the media don’t always honour, it’s unlikely that Fin24 is freely accessing other news companies’ stories in order to promote the public’s right to know.
Moneyweb has had enough of Fin24 using its stories to make its website more attractive and has launched an application in the high court alleging plagiarism, copyright infringement and unfair competition. Unlike Google, which aggregates a small portion of a news story and provides a useful link to the full story, Moneyweb claims Fin24 uses large portions with slight alterations. This makes Fin24’s link to the Moneyweb story pointless other than to protect it from plagiarism charges.
Moneyweb, a listed company whose largest shareholder is Caxton, specialises in producing original analysis, which is why its journalists win awards. Original analysis is, in theory, what will determine whether or not there will continue to be a role for journalists in the media. In a world dominated by the internet, original analysis is the most attractive prey for what is known as news aggregators – a website that aggregates content from other news sources. Fin24 is a news aggregator.
Moneyweb’s case is the first of its kind in South Africa and the industry is hoping it will introduce rules into an environment that, over the past few years, has become characterised by chaos and anarchy.
The legal battle is being fought in the context of a news media environment in which few, if any, traditional media companies are making a profit on their generally free internet offerings. Despite this, they remain convinced that the future is the internet and are fighting a tough and ill-considered battle for illusory online gold.
Many media companies that run news websites admit to some aggregation, but Fin24 appears to have taken it to a whole new level. An excellent book entitled Free Ride, by Robert Levine, describes this race to the bottom and “the inevitable response of media companies has been cuts – first in staff, then in ambition, and finally in quality”. He contends that traditional media firms are in trouble not because they are not giving consumers what they want, but “because they can’t collect money for it”.
Moneyweb represents those who are trying to avoid Levine’s inevitability and believe the internet battle can be won by delivering well-researched articles and invests in developing journalistic talent.
Fin24 represents those who think investing in your journalists is pointless when you can pick up stuff free from other sites.
It has dismissed Moneyweb as a luddite. “Moneyweb’s response to the workings of a digital media is an old media approach from a company struggling to retain market share,” it said. Actually, Moneyweb was one of the country’s early digital pioneers.
Fin24 also challenges the plagiarism charge, pointing out that the content taken and used was attributed to Moneyweb. This may lead lay people unfamiliar with the sophistry of internet speak to wonder why it hasn’t been charged with theft.