A mandatory Australian media code legislation aimed at Silicon Valley’s largest digital media giants is now closer to passage after the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) relented on its original draft and has now included public broadcasters ABC and SBS in the government’s proposed mandatory news code legislation.
Whereas the ACCC’s original draft excluded the ABC and SBS on the presumed justification of those organisations already receiving taxpayer funding, they will now be eligible to receive payments from digital giants such as Facebook and Google, joining in with other mainstream media giants such as News Corp and Nine/Fairfax, to receive payments for running their news content.
Previously, federal communications minister Paul Fletcher said that the bill – under its official name of the News Media Bargaining Code Bill (2020) – did not originally apply to the ABC and SBS, because they “[were] not the policy focus when it comes to remuneration aspects of the proposed mandatory code.”
However, common sense has prevailed: this bill in question, that of essential modern reform, exists as being too important to exclude any of Australia’s media entities which produce content that the likes of Google and Facebook utilise.
The move, initiated by federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg and implemented in the new draft by ACCC chairman Rod Sims, is now slated to win bipartisan support, particularly from renewed numbers from Labor and the Greens, ahead of the updated legislation’s tabling for debate slated for December 10.
The bill would mandate that any digital media enterprise – including but not limited to Facebook and Google – must pay Australian media companies for their content or else face heavy penalties and fines.
Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ senator from South Australia who holds the party’s communications portfolio, was pleased that the party’s demands to amend the legislation to include the public broadcasters was met.
And moreover, Hanson-Young has pledged her party’s support for the proposed legislation.
“It was the wrong decision to lock the public broadcasters out of the draft code and allow Facebook and Google to continue to profit from their content,” Hanson-Young said.
Hanson-Young also said that the future, enhancement and maintaining of public interest journalism, particularly on the ABC and SBS, would stand to benefit if and when the legislation is passed.
“Their inclusion is an important part of tackling the power and greed of the tech giants and protecting public interest journalism,” said Hanson-Young.
Hanson-Young and the Greens had always maintained that the role of fairness to not just the public broadcasters, but also to the ongoing survival of the AAP Newswire service and to smaller media outlets for their digital content as well.
“If it’s good enough for the global tech giants to pay Murdoch for content, then it is only fair that our public broadcasters are compensated for the use of their high-quality journalism, too,” she said.
“We are yet to see the legislation for the code – but when we do, we will also be looking to see that it guarantees simple and cost-effective benefits for small and independent media players.
“If the aim of this code is to ensure the viability of Australia’s media, then not only was it vital ABC and SBS were included, but it’s also important AAP doesn’t fail and small and independent publishers don’t miss out,” added Hanson-Young.
The Greens are not alone in advocating passage of the bill’s new version as being an essential influence on the future of public interest journalism.
Both the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas (JNI) – upon making joint lobbying submissions on behalf of amending the bill – are also pushing for the bill’s immediate impact with its passage.
“There are several issues of paramount importance to public interest journalism within the Code,” said Anna Draffin, PIJI’s chief executive.
“One of these key factors is media diversity, meaning the inclusion of news producers of all sizes, across regional, rural and metropolitan areas.
“The Code must incorporate fair value exchange in both directions, starting with a fair information exchange to ensure equitable commercial outcomes,” added Draffin.
“There has been a lot of talk about the need to encourage more reliable and accurate journalism and the Code can be a world-leading, practical step towards doing just that,” said Mark Ryan, JNI’s executive director.
As Google has been critical of the proposed legislation, even going as far as lobbying the ACCC itself for its vested interests on the bill, it and Facebook have been cooperative in negotiations with the Australian government about the legislation itself.
But the legislation also has the support from various media companies as well, as evidenced in a joint open letter from factions such as Nine, News Corp, Seven West Media and the Guardian Australia.
“Australians also know that trusted local news sources are under threat. Many have closed, forever silencing local voices,” the letter opened.
“The global digital platforms should care about the local media landscape. They should care about ensuring the sustainability of the local news media sector.
“Why? Because they benefit from it – enormously. But the financial ledger in producing the content is currently very one-sided,” the introduction added.
Fighting for a level playing field for everyone should be the ultimate aim of the bill, the letter concluded.
“Google has publicly said it wants to help fund the future of Australian media. That is certainly something that we welcome.
“Supporting a fair and reasonable Code is the first step. The Code is essential to arrest further declines in professional news content in Australia – something our democracy depends on,” it said.
Also by William Olson:
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