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Sunday, 28 June 2020 11:08

Google keeps Mel Silva under wraps after 'clarification' on news proposal Featured

Google keeps Mel Silva under wraps after 'clarification' on news proposal Pixabay

Google appears to be reluctant to offer comments from its Australia managing director Mel Silva to any other publication after she went on the record with The Australian to clarify that the news initiative announced by the company on Thursday would not be about offering cash to Australian publishers for the use of news snippets in search results.

After Brad Bender, Google's vice-president of Product Management in the news division, issued a blog post on what he described as a "new news experience launching later this year", The Australian, which along with its stablemate in the US, The Wall Street Journal, has been leading the charge to get Google to pay for what it uses, spoke to Mel Silva and quoted her from what was referred to as a briefing (screenshot below).

The Australian's report has Silva saying "however that the agreements would be limited to a new app that Google will launch later next year and won‘t cover news snippets that appear in Google’s Web searches".

iTWire contacted the company on Saturday morning, asking for a statement on this clarification. And I could not have been clearer on what I was asking for:

I wrote: "Yesterday we ran a story about Google's initiative to pay for news in three countries [1]. It appears from published material [2] that this measure will not cover search results and has no relevance to the moves going on in Australia to make digital platforms pay for local content that they use.

screenshot australian

A screenshot from The Australian's article about Mel Silva's clarification.

"I would be grateful for an official statement which we can use so that the difference between this initiative and what is being proposed in Australia by the ACCC can be made clear.

"I can, of course, take material from The Australian with credit, but given that that publication has its own angle on the issue, I would rather have a statement from Google."

The [1] was a link to the article we ran on Bender's blog post, while [2] was a link to The Australian's article which was titled: "Google news payments won’t cover search."

But the response I got indicates that Google seems to prefer obfuscation over simple, direct communication.

By evening, I got a reply from Derryn Webster, communications manager – B2B and Corporate, Google Australia and New Zealand, in which he very kindly provided a link to Bender's post – which we had already reported on. And even that link was broken – the last hyphen and forward slash were missing so all one got was a 404.

Incompetence on a grand scale would be a mild description of Webster's response. Underlining the fact that Google is first and foremost an advertising company — and a technology company a very poor second — Webster's signature has a Google logo with a flashing display and his email signature does not omit the all-important spin: "We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work, and pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging."

Of course, I do not expect Google to adopt a friendly approach to me; I have taken the company to task on more occasions than I care to remember. But when one writes and asks for something, and makes the request in language that a high-school kid can understand, then one expects a professional reply. No favours are being sought.

Google does not know how to deal with journalists, else the company would have known that it would get a roasting for this kind of bullshit. As it has.

If a company is indulging in smoke and mirror tactics, it pays to be upfront about it. If journalists — and I stress that word — find about it later, then the fur is bound to fly. Not that it makes a difference to a company that is even more parsimonious that the Dickensian character Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to paying for what it uses from other sources.

Australia's competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has been working on a mandatory code of conduct to make digital companies pay for the use of news from Australian publishers. The code is expected before the end of July.

This follows an inquiry by the ACCC in 2018. When it was released in July of that year, the government said it would give its response by the end of the year; when it did so, it asked the ACCC to work along with digital platforms like Facebook and Google to develop a voluntary code so that publishers were not disadvantaged.

But when it looked like the digital platforms were dragging their feet, Australia said it would develop a mandatory code.

Thus far, Google has been protesting against the Australian Government's move to draft a mandatory code, saying it was doing news publishers a favour by featuring their content in search results.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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