Dear oh dear what a mendacious lather that old dog Rupert Murdoch is trying to whip up.

Over the weekend the Sun King used the nastiest language at the so-called World Media Summit in Beijing to slag off the likes of Google and Yahoo, describing them as content kleptomaniacs because they aggregate News Corporation’s content.

What self-serving moralistic tosh.

I have written previously about this claim that Google is a thief on my blog, but given that this high and mighty line is likely to become popular as the mainstream media seeks to change its business model to seek payment for content, it is worth restating the facts.

Google and Yahoo are not thieves. Newspaper companies have for years invited the search engines in, and indeed laid out the welcome mat and the “help yourself” signs. Mainstream media did this because, rightly or wrongly, they believed it suited their interests.

Until very recently, news organisation embraced Google and the like because of the belief that the search engines and aggregators helped build their brands and drive traffic to their sites. Now they are changing their minds. Fair enough, and they are quite within their rights to do so. But please drop the moral posturing.

Likewise, would those who think it is in some way sinful to try and charge for content online would also do well to drop the moral posturing.

News publishers, like everyone else online, are in control of what content they make available on the web, who can access it and at what price. There are many confidential sites, such as university databases and subscription sites. Even Crikey is a mix of free and paid for content.

Those who choose to lock up their content and prevent Google crawling simply add a line of code to deny permission. It is simple stuff. Read more here. If media organisations have chosen to let Google in, then that was their choice, made out of self interest, not charity. They may have made a mistake (though I don’t think so) but they are hardly victims of crime.

The disadvantage of locking up content is that people can’t find you unless they already know you are there. You shut yourself out of conversations. Bloggers and others can’t link to you. You make yourself into a members’ only club. Lucrative, perhaps, but small.

The stick in the spokes for all mainstream content providers who think that general news content can be put behind a pay wall is public “broadcasters”, such as the ABC. Indeed, the battle between commercial media and public broadcasters is likely to be the most keenly fought of the new century, with all kinds of implications for shifting tides of media power.

After all, every taxpayer has already paid for the content carried by the ABC and the BBC.

The next salvo in the ongoing battle is likely to come this Wednesday night, with ABC managing director Mark Scott’s speech at the University of Melbourne. Watch this space, and my blog.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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