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.
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.