Wednesday, 17 February 2021 06:58

Govt offers more sweeteners to Google, Facebook over media code

Govt offers more sweeteners to Google, Facebook over media code Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

More Australian media deals with Google's News Showcase appear to be in the offing, aided by some government sweeteners, with a number of news publishers reported to be in discussions with the online advertising giant set to finalise agreements before the Australian Parliament passes the news media code into law.

The Australian claims its owner, News Corporation Australia, Nine Entertainment, the ABC, SBS and Guardian Australia are all in talks with Google, with the latter saying it was in talks with "publishers large and small".

The Federal Government has been backing these deals, and offered Google and Facebook inducements in the form of so-called "technical amendments" in the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code that it claims "will enhance the way it operates and strengthen its ability to foster more sustainable public interest journalism in Australia".

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg — credited with having played a central role in the deal Google cut with free-to-air TV operator Seven News Media on Monday — and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said news of the deals was encouraging.

"It is encouraging to see recent reports that news media businesses and digital platforms are now reaching commercial agreements, against the backdrop of the Code being introduced into Parliament on 9 December 2020 and receiving the backing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee," the two ministers said in a statement.

They said the government would make the following changes to the Code:

  • streamline the requirements for digital platforms to give advanced notice of algorithm changes to make them more workable;
  • clarify the arbitration criteria so that it considers the reasonable costs of both the digital platform and news media business and amend the legislation to remove any doubt that arbitrated remuneration is to be in the form of lump-sum payments;
  • clarify the role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, ensuring its focus is on providing factual information to assist the arbitrator; and
  • adjust the effect of anti-avoidance provisions so that they take effect from the commencement of the Code and ensuring the government’s policy intent of not interfering with existing contractual rights under the code is achieved.

The government has already given ground on three major aspects of the code, among them (1) the time interval for informing publishers about algorithm changes (reduced from 28 days to 14); (2) that digital platforms can factor in the value of the service they provide to a news organisation in monetary terms before the quantum of payment is decided; and (3) that the law would only apply to Google Search and Facebook's NewsFeed. YouTube and Instagram are not covered.

These three changes were incorporated into the bill that was presented to Parliament on the last sitting day of 2020.

The bill is expected to be passed during the current session of Parliament of which there are six sitting days left.

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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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