The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released a draft legislation that will empower news publications to seek for fair negotiation from Google and Facebook for using their news content. The move appears to be the first in the world and it is seen as a way to address imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms.
With the new ruling, companies such as Google and Facebook will have to pay publications once it becomes law sometime this year. According to the Treasurer of Australia Josh Frydenberg, “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses. It’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection, and a sustainable media landscape.”
“Nothing less than the future of the Australian media landscape is at stake,” he added. The legislation will have to go through a public consultation phase before it is finalised and put forward to Parliament.
Addressing loss of revenue to Google and Facebook
The move comes as various publications are feeling the pinch of reduced advertising demand. According to a 2019 study, 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in Australia in the past 10 years as traditional media loses advertising revenue to Google and Facebook which paid nothing for using their news content. Fryndenberg shared that for every AUD 100 spent on online advertising (excluding classifieds) in Australia, a third goes to Google and Facebook.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is reported to have lobbied hard for the Australian government to force the two US tech giants to the negotiating table. News Corp’s Executive Chairman Michael Miller said while other countries are talking about the tech giants’ unfair and damaging behaviour, the Australian government (is) taking world-first action.
Once the draft code is adopted, Australian news media companies will be able to bargain with Google and Facebook for a fair share of payment for news. The negotiation and mediation can take place for up to 3 months. If no agreement can be reached between the two parties, they can enter an arbitration process. Each party may lodge an offer with the arbitrator and provide one submission in response to the opposing offer.
The arbitrator must choose one of the offers within 45 business days from the start of the arbitration process. Both parties can still continue to negotiate during the arbitration and the arbitration will stop if a commercial deal is reached.
Transparency and control
Apart from providing monetary compensation, the new code will set new standards for non-payment issues which include algorithm changes that would affect traffic to news sites. Facebook and Google would be required to give news media businesses 28 days’ notice for changes that would affect ranking of news behind paywalls and substantial changes to the display and presentation of news and advertising directly associated with the news.
On top of that, the digital platforms must provide transparency on the data they collect from users that interact with the news such as how long a user spend on an article, how many articles they consume in a certain period and other information about user engagement with the news across their digital platform services.
Interestingly, the digital platforms are also required to provide news media businesses with flexible user comment moderation tools. This include the ability to turn off comments on individual stories they post onto their platforms. Failure to comply with the standards would be subject to further action by the ACCC.
Which media is eligible?
However, not all online publications would automatically be covered by the code. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will use a set criteria to determine which Australian news media businesses are eligible. Publications are eligible if the online news content they produce investigates and explains issues of public significance for Australians.
The media outlet must adhere to the minimum standards of professional editorial standards and maintain a degree of editorial independence. The publication must be based in Australia and generate an annual revenue of more than AUD 150,000 (about RM454,000). Non-news media content such as drama, reality television, entertainment content or sports broadcasting are not covered.