The investigation will focus on the largest digital companies and their competition with local news editors.
South Africa's Competition Commission will investigate whether digital platforms like Meta (banned and designated as extremist in Russia) and Google were unfairly competing with news publishers by using their content to generate ad revenue.
Earlier in September, the Commission published the Terms of reference for the inquiry.
The Commission will be investigating among other things market features that may distort competition for advertising revenue between news media organisations and digital platforms, and whether these are affected by imbalances in bargaining power.
The Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry (MDPMI) will be led by James Hodge, Chief Economist and Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Commission, with Paula Fray serving as a panel member. Fray is an esteemed veteran South African media practitioner, who has served as a Deputy Press Ombud and a public representative on the SA Press Council.
In her address, Fray pointed to the rise in digital platforms which presents both opportunities and challenges to the media, including a need for sustainable business models.
“These [challenges] are driven by technological disruptions most recently, such as artificial intelligence, social media-fuelled pressures to tell stories faster, amid a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation, online harassment, global challenges such as the war in Ukraine, economic pressures, reduced newsroom resources, post COVID and challenges to press freedom and press and freedom of information,”
During this initial phase, the MDPMI plans to conduct two rounds of information gathering, with public hearings scheduled for March 2024. The MDPMI encourages all interested stakeholders and the public to submit their input on the Statement of Issues by November 14.
The inquiry will also assess how these markets affect the visibility and competitiveness of smaller news organisations, including community and African language news media, and the diversity of news available to consumers.
The inquiry will include general search engines such as Alphabet's Google and Bing, social media platforms such as Meta and X, news aggregation platforms, video sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, and ad networks such as Google Ads.
It will also examine generative artificial intelligence such as OpenAI's ChatGPT and how it uses original news content in its output, the Commission added.
Importantly, the investigation will focus on the impact of the listed digital platforms exclusively on South African media, including news publishers and broadcasters.