Google and Facebook have stepped up their resistance to the Australian Government’s News Media Bargaining Code, which would require the tech giants to pay for the news content they use, with Facebook even removing news from its platform altogether.
Here are 9 reasons why the News Media Bargaining Code is essential:
1/ Google isn’t making helpful ‘recommendations’ — it’s making a profit
You may have seen (probably via carefully targeted Google promotion) a video message from Google Australia’s Managing Director, Melanie Silva, that likens Google Search having to pay to link to original news content, to you having to pay for recommending coffee shops to a friend.
The big problem with that analogy is that Google isn’t providing recommendations as your friend. It’s doing it in order to obtain and profit from your data.
Google does not just link people to websites. The business model of tech giants like Google and Facebook is the collection and monetisation of users’ data.
2/ Dedicated journalism is essential for democracy
The stronghold Google and Facebook have on digital advertising is not just bad for consumers, it’s damaging to democracy.
There is a fundamental difference between professionally researched and curated journalistic content and user-generated internet content. Historically, journalism has been paid for by advertising revenue, which has been increasingly siphoned away from traditional media through the dominance of Big Tech. Between them, Google and Facebook net more than 80% of the online advertising spend in Australia.
Whether you are The Canberra Times or The New York Times, Google and Facebook are what the ACCC calls ‘unavoidable trading partners’, controlling almost the entire digital advertising market. Decoupling advertising from news means that Australia needs to come up with a process of valuing news — a key issue the Government is trying to address with the News Media Bargaining Code.
Without a process that properly values news content, high-quality journalism may disappear. Already, data from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative shows that 157 Australian newsrooms have closed temporarily or for good since early 2019.
3/ The antidote to fake news is quality journalism
Facebook and Google-owned Youtube continue to allow the worst kind of fake news, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes on their platforms.
The antidote is quality journalism which develops accurate, timely, and relevant news.
The Code will ensure that quality journalism continues to combat fake news. The fact that Google and Facebook have threatened to remove Google Search from their platforms in Australia should the Code go ahead is an indication of how little a problem Google and Facebook think fake news is.
4/ News content is valuable to Google and Facebook
Facebook and Google’s business model depends on their ubiquity — being the only place we “need to go”. The presence of news within that ecosystem, whether or not a person clicks on it, makes the whole ecosystem a lot stronger.
“Google & Facebook, have come up with a fantastic, really clever business model; you get free services, they get your data, and advertise to you and away you go. But they’re not providing media. They’re not providing news, and they don’t employ journalists,” said Rod Simms, chair of the ACCC.
5/ The Code will help all Australian media, not just commercial publishers
The News Media Bargaining Code includes our public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. It includes digital-first publishers like Guardian Australia, and smaller digital-focused publishers like Junkee, as well as regional press — many of who support the Code.
It also allows smaller publishers to come together in a collective bargaining agreement to assist with their negotiations.
The Code helps the entire Australian media landscape.
6/ Google wants ‘total control of commercial negotiations’ — the News Media Bargaining Code will level the playing field
While Google has come to the table saying it is willing to pay for news, it has stipulated it will only do so if Google retains total control of commercial negotiations.
Google has recently signed off on such a deal in France. The reports from France suggest that news publishers aren’t satisfied with the quantum, which is €90 million ($142 million) for the media as a whole. In a media environment populated by a greater number of smaller publishers struggling in a revenue-lean COVID world, faced with a ‘take it or leave it’ situation — France decided to take it. In terms of Australia, a country with half the population of France, we’d likely be looking at half that amount. It wouldn’t shift the needle.
If the Big Tech companies and news media organisations can’t reach an agreement about how much their news content is worth, the Code mandates third-party mediation to reach a fair valuation of news content, allowing news media organisations to bargain individually or collectively with Google and Facebook.
7/ The Code won’t “break the internet”
On 3 February 2021, Microsoft publicly backed the code, suggesting that their search engine, Bing, could fill the gap should Google Search be withdrawn. In a statement, Microsoft President Brad Smith said “The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses,” and that Microsoft would be willing to pay for news content.
“This is a significant development and should send a message to both Google and Facebook that their network dominance in Australia is only as strong as their respect for Australians,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute Centre for Responsible Technology.
“This shows that the code is workable, it will not break the internet, and that it will create opportunities for technology companies prepared to respect Australia’s democratic process.”
8) Facebook went nuclear
Facebook, who has been quiet in the lead up to Code passing Parliament, has opted for the nuclear option of removing all news content in Australia. Major news publishers as well as smaller ones have had their pages blocked, and Australians can no longer share Australian news on the platform.
This shambolic takedown has resulted in several other non-news organisations, including public health pages, local personalities, NGOs, important civic services and even the Bureau of Meteorology being taken down.
Facebook doesn’t care about the quality of its content, it cares about the bottom line. The banning of news content on Facebook shows its significant market power — enough to shut down critical news outlets for 16 million Australians who use Facebook daily.
9/ The bigger picture — regulating Big Tech
Google and Facebook’s pushback is indicative of their extreme resistance to regulation. Their concern, of course, is that Australia could set a global precedent.
The inverse is also true, should Australia succumb to the threats of Big Tech withdrawal, it would represent a surrendering of our democratic processes to these global corporations.
It’s chilling to anyone who cares about democracy.
“What Google and Facebook’s threats show is that for all their rhetoric of liberty and freedom, they ultimately put their commercial interests ahead of the democratic processes of the nations they operate in,” said Peter Lewis.
It’s also important to note that the News Media Bargaining Code is not the only process that is coming as a result of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, which has resulted in 23 recommendations. The recommendations include a review of privacy laws, developing data protection, and addressing disinformation and the transparency of digital advertising.
These are all part of a critical effort to protect consumers and to regulate the Big Tech giants.
The Centre for Responsible Technology exists to give people agency and influence over the way network technology is rapidly changing our world.
For our research visit: www.centreforresponsibletechnology.org.au