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Tag Archives: Australian parliament

Inquiry’s bumpy ride awaits, after tech giants’ “blackmail” tactics

As the Senate inquiry into the Digital Media Code began on Friday, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has expressed her displeasure over the lack of negotiating spirit Facebook and Google have brought to the halls of Parliament in Canberra.

In fact, after Day 1’s proceedings were completed, Hanson-Young, in her role of chairing the Senate inquiry, gave the Silicon Valley tech media giants an almighty serve in response to their testimonies.

Hanson-Young even went as far to express that their tactics of sticking to their own principles threaten an essential pillar of democracy in Australia, that of a free press.

And Hanson-Young, in return, has shown the Senate inquiry’s challengers that she is ready to wage a toe-to-toe battle, or even a bumpy ride, to fight for better journalism in Australia.

“We know that Australians value good quality journalism in this country. And in order to make good quality journalism in this country sustainable [to this point], we’ve needed to pay for it,” Hanson-Young said after the opening day’s formal presentations.

“The tech giants have been getting away with it for far too long, and with very little regulation, and one of the results is that journalism in this country is suffering,” she added.

Moreover, Google – through testimony and statements provided by Mel Silva, its managing director in Australia and New Zealand – has threatened to geo-block its services to Australian users should the Digital Media Code Bill come to fruition.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to search and coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk,” Silva said.

“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.

“This is our worst-case scenario, we do not want to be in this situation, we would love to get to an outcome where there is a workable outcome for all parties,” she added.

Meanwhile, Hanson-Young views Google’s position as a devious negotiating tactic equivalent to holding Australian users over a barrel.

“We are going through elements of the legislation, and there may be elements that need to be tweaked,” Hanson-Young admitted, in fairness.

“But I’ll tell you what – you don’t walk into the Australian Parliament, even if you’re among the biggest companies in the world, and especially if you’re not paying tax in this country, and blackmail the Australian Parliament and expect to get your way,” she added.

 

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, holding tech giants to account in chairing an inquiry into the Digital Media Code Bill (Photo from abc.net.au)

 

Silva said during the opening day’s testimonies that Google has a history of negotiating with other countries to cut deals and bring about compromises with media companies and news publishers where the latter groups get financially compensated but at rates that are suitable to them.

“There is, however, a workable solution for Google where we would pay publishers for value, they would create and curate content and panels that would exist across several Google services. These are deals that have been done all around the world, 450 so far,” said Silva.

Meanwhile, Facebook has adopted a similar stance to that of their Silicon Valley tech neighbours, also threatening to cease with publishing links and stories from Australian media providers upon passage of the Digital Media Code.

If this exists as a virtual case of Facebook unfriending Australian content consumers, Simon Milner, vice president of public policy at Facebook, sees it as his company’s unwavering corporate policy.

Milner told the inquiry that his company had three concerns about the proposed legislation and that a possibility of a series-circuit or daisy-chain effect could ensue, starting with the mandating of commercial arrangements with every Australian media publisher.

“The sheer volume of that we regard as unworkable,” Milner maintains, in defence of Facebook’s position.

Milner also says that his company has issues with the nature of negotiations between parties as being one of binding arbitration versus an open system of good faith negotiations, leading to a non-differentiation clause.

That clause essentially means that prevents one of the tech companies, such as Facebook, from offering commercial terms to certain publishers and changing how content is displayed regardless of whatever deals have been agreed to or not.

“It means if one publisher is out, [then] all Australian publishers are out,” Milner said.

Hanson-Young rejects the notions of the tech giants, seeing their positions as untenable towards the big picture of striking fair deals for Australia’s media companies.

“If you ever needed an example of what big corporate power looks like, this is it,” Hanson-Young said.

“This is a failure of the market – and it’s about time that we regulate big tech, and it’s about time that we ensure that big corporations do not continue to have such a stronghold over democracy,” she added.

At present, amounts of collective remunerations have been debated, although those in the mainstream press – such as Nine chairman Peter Costello and News Corp Austral-Asia CEO Michael Miller – have bandied about $600 million to $1 billion as being the appropriate figures.

With the inquiry is set to continue this week, Hanson-Young said that while negotiations between the government and the tech giants may be inevitable, the Digital Media Code is a much-needed element of overall media reform, and possesses a far-reaching impact.

“The way we ensure that is to ensure that all of this country’s outlets, no matter whether it’s The Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, or any of the local country newspapers, the ABC, the public broadcasters, that their content created by those journalists and media agencies is actually paid for,” Hanson-Young said.

“These big tech giants have been taking this content, and using it as a part of its business model to make big profits from it for far too long.

“It has to change,” she added.

 

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ASIO bill reforms aren’t enough, say MEAA and Greens

Wedged between the recent passage of legislation expanding Australia’s spy agency’s powers and a date for a Senate inquiry into press freedom after the New Year, Attorney-General Christian Porter and the Morrison government announced on Wednesday a range of measures aimed at enhancing public interest journalism and the protection of whistle-blowers.

However, both the Greens and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have criticised the government’s announcement, claiming it doesn’t go far enough to prevent the persecution of journalists and others acting in the public interest.

And those bodies collectively warn that such persecution can ultimately lead to prosecutions unless further revisions are taken.

“Under the reforms proposed by the Attorney-General today, journalists can still have their homes or workplaces raided without prior knowledge,” said Sarah Hanson-Young, holder of the communications portfolio for the Greens, in a reaction to Porter’s announcement.

“Journalists and their employers will still not have the right to appear before a judge and contest a search warrant before it is executed.

“Journalism remains a crime and journalists can still be jailed under these reforms,” added Hanson-Young.

Marcus Strom, the MEAA’s media federal president, called for greater action to counter any shortcomings that a Peter Dutton-sponsored piece of legislation passed in Parliament’s final sitting fortnight contained in the way of oversights and transparencies.

“The impetus for this review was the raids on consecutive days in 2019 of the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC offices in Sydney,” Strom said.

“Government agencies can still obtain warrants to investigate journalists in secret, and journalists and their sources can still be jailed for truth-telling.

“There is an urgent need for much broader reform to remove laws that criminalise journalism,” Strom added.

Dutton’s piece of legislation was aimed at increasing the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to include investigations aimed at anyone from private citizens and residents, even as young as 14 years of age, to anyone acting in a public-interest capacity, such as journalists and whistle-blowers.

And while Hanson-Young and the Greens had already arranged and announced a Senate inquiry into media freedom in Australia to take place in February after Parliament reconvenes after its summer break, Porter defends his department’s announcements as being a step in the right direction.

 

 

“Transparency is a key foundation of a healthy democracy and these reforms support the right of journalists and whistle-blowers to hold governments at all levels to account by shining a light on issues that are genuinely in the public interest,” said Porter.

Specific to journalists and public-interest journalism, amendments to Dutton’s recently-passed legislation would include:

  • only Supreme or Federal Court judges would have the ability to issue search warrants against journalists for disclosure offences
  • warrants would only be issued against journalists for disclosure offences after consideration by a Public Interest Advocate
  • greater justifications would have to be given in relation to warrants exercised against journalists, and
  • the government would be required to consider additional defences for public interest journalism for secrecy offences

“Our reforms will ensure the [ASIO Amendment Bill] is clear and understandable and provides an effective legal framework that supports and protects public sector whistle-blowers, while balancing important national security considerations with regard to the unauthorised release of sensitive information,” said Porter.

However, bodies such as the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) have said that the inquiry to be chaired by Hanson-Young must include press freedom areas among:

  • enshrining a positive protection for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Australian law
  • with regard to broadening shield laws, Protection would have to be extended to all those involved in the newsgathering and publication process whose material or evidence may tend to reveal the identity of a source
  • journalists and their employers should be informed when enforcement agencies seek access to their metadata and journalist information warrants should be contestable by the subject of the warrant and their employer
  • and the public interest consideration required before issuing a journalist’s information warrant should be expanded to consider the potential harm that could be done by the issuance of the warrant and the public interest in a free press

“Journalists should not be charged for doing their jobs full stop. They should not have their homes raided. They should not be intimidated or threatened. They should not be attacked by the government for reporting what is in the public interest,” said Hanson-Young.

Hanson-Young also envisions areas of reporting that can be opened up without the government scrutiny which may theoretically be applied under the current legislation, should new press freedom laws become enacted.

“We have seen in recent months, vindication for those journalists whose homes and workplaces were raided over their reports on alleged war crimes and the government’s plans to spy on Australians. Public interest journalism is vital to our democracy,” she said.

“We need proper protections for journalists including a contested warrants process to be enshrined in a Media Freedom Act,” she added.

Meanwhile, Mike Burgess, ASIO’s director-general of security, feels that any reforms to the ASIO Amendment Bill – even at the reward of protecting public interest journalism, journalists, and whistle-blowers – need to be taken within the agenda of the nation’s greater interests.

“I acknowledge ASIO is granted extraordinary powers – but they are rightly subject to strict safeguards and oversight. Australians should be confident that ASIO acts in a targeted, proportionate, ethical way, and wherever possible, uses the least intrusive method available to collect security intelligence,” Burgess said in reaction to the bill’s passage last week.

“We do not just do what is legal, we do what is right,” Burgess added.

 

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