Australia vs. Google & Facebook – The News Media Bargaining Code

Australia suddenly became the centre of the media world with battle lines drawn between Google, Facebook and the Australian Government on behalf of the news media publishers, not just in Australia, but around the world.

Now, while the Government’s News Media Bargaining Code, which is to pass through the parliament this week, is at the centre of this stand-off, the issue can be traced back to 2017 and a Senate inquiry into Public Interest Journalism.

Back in July 2017, Denise Shrivell from Mediascope and I, along with almost everyone and anyone with a vested interest in media, made a submission and appeared before the Australian Senate Inquiry. You can find the report from the Senate here.

Coverage of the inquiry by the trade media is here.

This second article, by Arvind Hickman, reported that one of the senators, Sam Dastyari, raised the possibility of government intervention to fund public interest journalism.

This was then handed to the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) who the following year handed down their Digital Platforms Inquiry – final report, which you can read here.

The industry response to this report, or more particularly, the Government’s response, was not positive. In the report, 23 recommendations were made. These included wide-ranging reforms to consumer protection and privacy laws, of which the government supported six in their entirety and ten “in principle”, with five “noted” and two rejected.

Last year the Australian Government then asked the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook. Basically, to begin work on the News Media Bargaining Code. You can read more here.

Responses to the draft code were swift. When the Bill was tabled in Parliament, Google said it was unworkable.

While last December, Facebook said it would try and find a ‘workable’ solution.

Sir Martin Sorrell spoke out against Australia’s news media bargaining code.

The Web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, said the news media bargaining code could break the internet, by breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.

An economist explained that the news media bargaining code could backfire against the intent of the code if small media outlets were not protected.

There is an excellent explainer of the arguments against the news media bargaining code and what happens next available here.

Then in January this year, things heated up in a Senate hearing on the matter, when Google threatened to turn off search in Australia if the code was passed into law.

Google Australia’s Managing Director, Mel Silva explains their reasons here

Meanwhile, Google continued successfully to negotiate the Google News Showcase with the major media owners, with Seven West Media becoming the first of the big media players to enter into a deal for the tech giant’s mechanism through which to pay publishers for news content.

Followed by Nine and News Corporation etc.

But Facebook got their nose out of joint and decided to restrict news services across Australia.

The industry criticised Facebook’s move to restrict news services across Australia.

As did the publishers.

And the Australian Government.

And Nielsen reported that consumption of news in Australia dropped immediately after Facebook’s ban.

But the Australian Government went one step further and stopped paid advertising on Facebook while the news was cut.

As the Government pulled their Facebook spend, brands weighed options, while marketers and publishers shifted back to owned channels

And as of the close of business last night, news from the Australian Government said “Facebook plans to reverse its block on Australia news in the coming days”.

And everyone wonders why Australia has no trusted media source. According to Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer, which classifies media sources as ‘trusted’ when they score 60 points or higher based on the average of respondents rating them on a scale of how much they would trust them for news and information, no media sources are trusted, except social media. Go figure.

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3, our partners in Asia. Darren is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimization.

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