CompCom begins digital media platforms inquiry

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 18 Oct 2023
The Competition Commission has initiated an inquiry into digital media platforms.
The Competition Commission has initiated an inquiry into digital media platforms.

The Competition Commission (CompCom) yesterday launched the Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry (MDPMI), to analyse the distribution of media content on South African digital platforms and the advertising technology (adtech) markets that connect buyers and sellers.

In a statement, the commission said the inquiry is established under section 43B(1)(a) of the Competition Act No 89 of 1998 (as amended).

It added that the move was prompted by concerns that certain market features in digital platforms that distribute news media content, and the associated adtech markets, may restrict, distort or impede competition, potentially affecting South Africa's news media sector.

The MDPMI will focus on key digital platforms, including search engines, social media sites, video-sharing platforms and news aggregation platforms, as well as adtech market participants on the supply and demand sides, and ad exchanges.

The inquiry will also assess the impact of new technologies adopted by digital platforms − such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) search support like ChatGPT − on South African news media businesses.

According to the CompCom, the shift towards digital news sources due to increased smartphone adoption and affordable internet access has been notable, impacting the cost and revenue structure of South African news media businesses.

Leading the MDPMI is James Hodge, acting deputy CompCom commissioner, who noted the inquiry will focus on the media’s increasing reliance on video-sharing platforms, news aggregators and social media for news access and revenue generation.

The impact of AI on the media and the distribution of media content will also be scrutinised. Hodge pointed out that chatbots are trained on information provided by the media, and the inquiry will work towards ensuring the content is sourced in a way that preserves the dignity of the media sector.

Paula Fray, a South African journalist, entrepreneur and media development trainer, will serve as a panel member. During the launch, Fray said the rise of digital platforms presents opportunities and challenges for the media, including the need for sustainable business models.

“These challenges are driven by technological disruptions, such as AI, social media-fuelled pressure to tell stories faster, online harassment, reduced newsroom resources, and challenges to press freedom and freedom of information,” she explained.

For the initial phase of the MDPMI, two rounds of information-gathering with public hearings are scheduled for March 2024.

The MDPMI is a significant step in understanding and addressing the evolving landscape of media and digital platforms in South Africa, emphasising the need for fair competition and sustainability in the news media sector, stated the commission.

Commissioner Doris Tshepe emphasised the significance of the MDPMI, acknowledging the vital role of media in ensuring an informed public and the proper functioning of a democracy.

“The inquiry comes at a critical moment for the media industry, as news consumption rapidly shifts online and traditional sources of funding for print and broadcasting advertising decline."