More than a year after Australian political parties from all walks of life united around a law that caused Google and Facebook to pay for the news they distribute, 24 other small media outlets will now receive money from Google. This means that Google has agreements with virtually every eligible media company.
These deals, and those with Facebook, have injected more than A$200 million into Australian journalism every year, according to Rod Sims, the former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission who initiated the Code.
In 2021, Australia innovated by using competition law to get Google and Facebook to pay for the news they broadcast. Despite the differences between the then ruling Liberal Party and the opposition Labor Party, political parties, many media outlets and some NGOs, United around a common objective: to make Google and Facebook media pay. Concerned about the power imbalance between the media and the tech giants, Sims proposed the code in order to push “digital platform companies” to negotiate with the media.
As the law currently stands, if an agreement is not reached, the government can step in and require both parties to resort to binding arbitration in which each party submits its final offer. This use of “baseball arbitrage” is critical because it means that well-funded tech companies cannot drag out negotiations, impoverishing smaller outlets that lack the resources to withstand a long period of negotiation.
the codedwhich came directly from the 2019 ACCC report survey of digital platforms, was controversial. Critics argued it would be a big giveaway for Murdoch-owned outlets while excluding smaller, independent ones. This turned out not to be the case, as hundreds of publications large and small have benefited.
Google and Facebook have lobbied hard against the code, with Facebook australian news blocking for several days in 2021. However, Australians took a practical view and united across the political spectrum to push the bill through.
On a recent trip to Australia, meetings and interviews with journalists, journalism professors and government officials showed widespread enthusiasm for the monetary boost to Australian journalism. Media across Australia are hiring new reporters. The Guardian added 50 journalists, bringing their newsroom total to 150. Journalism professors say their students are hired and there are too many vacancies to fill.
“The Code has brought much more money to new outlets than expected,” said Harry Dugmore, senior lecturer in the department of communications at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast. “The question is what will happen when the contracts expire? Each outlet has its own deal, so expiration will occur at different times, but early contracts may expire in two or three years. Observers note that staggered expiry dates give platforms an advantage in trading and that industry-wide contracts would give the media an advantage.
Facebook, however, refused to negotiate with many smaller outlets as well as two large, quality organizations: The Conversation and the hybrid-service public service Special Broadcasting Service. This prompted calls that the government step in and demand that they go to binding arbitration.
“It’s a shame that SBS and The Conversation have been left out. It’s time to designate Facebook,” Green MP Sarah Hanson-Young said, referring to the process by which the government would require a particular company to negotiate with outlets. So far, no outlets have been designated, suggesting the code has worked to encourage Google and Facebook to come to the table.
YouTube and Instagram were excluded from the Code in part because YouTube was already sharing revenue and Instagram was not carrying much news at the time. Now that they are, so some observers say it’s time for them to start paying the media.
Under Australian law, a revision code is in progress. A report should be submitted to the Head of the Treasury and the Minister of Communication., urban infrastructure, cities and the arts at the end of September and probably released in October. The Treasury will make recommendations for changes to the code, but it is not clear whether the recently elected The Labor government will make revising the code a priority. Facebook supposedly refused to attend scheduled review meetings with government officials last month.
In passing the code, the support of the Green Party was essential. “If we couldn’t have done this when we had most of the mainstream media on board and the political parties in agreement, what hope would we have had in terms of doing anything to regulate the space in line? said Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young.
She noted that widespread support for the Code stemmed in part from public sentiment that it was time to regulate big tech and in part because polarization in the United States showed what could happen if quality journalism was not not supported. The need for reliable information during the Covid pandemic has further underscored the importance of strong news media.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, a union that represents 5,000 working Australian journalists, provides qualified support for the code. Yes, he pumped money into the system, said manager Adam Portelli. “(But) what the current negotiation process lacks is transparency. While there is no doubt that significant new funds have been provided to Australian news media companies since the code began, the amount and purposes for which these funds have been deployed by media organizations are not known. public. This clearly precludes any evaluation of the effectiveness of the code.
“One of our main concerns with the code is that it does not specify that the funds generated by the negotiation agreements must be intended for the production of journalistic content. Without it, the public cannot trust that the code actually works. »
Misha Ketchell, editor of The conversation, said Google was fairly quick to offer a deal, but Facebook simply refused to come to the table. “The other problem we faced in the early stages of closing deals was simply information asymmetry in the market. There was no market. We didn’t know anything. We went to Facebook and Google and said, “What do you think is right? And no one really knew.
And in Australia, Google and Facebook made media outlets sign non-disclosure agreements. My colleague from Columbia University, Bill Grueskin, visited Australia earlier this year and called the code “obscure agreement, with critical details guarded as if they were nuclear launch codes” .
As in many countriessmall Australian outlets worried that they would be excluded from a bill that would primarily benefit mainstream media, especially Murdoch-owned media. However, in Australia, the bill was designed so that most small outlets could strike deals if they joined together to negotiate. This has been made possible because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has provided an exemption allowing collective bargaining by any outlet with an annual revenue of less than $10 million per year.
Some 84 small media outlets that make up Country Press Australia have bargained collectively with Google and Facebook.
Emma McDonald of Minderoo FoundationThe Frontier Technology initiative spent six months helping another group of 24 outlets – including multicultural, LGBTQI+, outdoor urban, regional and arts organizations – broker a deal with Google.
Australia started the discussion by putting in place its code. And it seems to work better than its skeptics expected.
The Journalism Preservation and Competition Bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, follows the spirit of the Australian Code by charging Google and Facebook for the content they use. The JCPA takes up the idea of a form of binding arbitration as leverage to bring both parties to the table and make reasonable offers. However, the JCPA differs in that it does not allow contracts that keep the terms secret from the government. Republicans have opposed it, saying money could flow to The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal from the bill, whose reporting they consider biased. These outlets are already getting tens of millions dollars from deals they made with Google and Meta and should be excluded, along with the biggest broadcast networks, from a final release.
Canada is likely to pass a law similar to Australia’s, with the vote expected in October. The Canadian version improves the shortcomings of the code, in particular the lack of transparency terms of the agreement. Under Canadian Draft Online News Actthe contractual conditions must be disclosed to the governmentbut not the public.
Indian and South African officials have said they would consider similar legislation, but nothing has been proposed. SWedish media is also discussing the possibility of pushing for a release of the code. Brazil’s proposal to force Google and Facebook to pay for news was Torpedo by Google, Facebook and President Jair Bolsonaro in May, as journalist Patricia Campos Mello explained in a previous article by Poynter. EU countries use copyright law to make Google and Meta pay for news. Meta a said recently, news distribution is no longer a priority for the company, although this does not necessarily translate to the complete elimination of news feeds.