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Media bargaining code cleared by Parliament

Media and marketing

Australia’s world-first news media bargaining code will soon be in force after legislation passed through both houses of federal parliament.

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Google and Facebook signed deals with major news companies before the negotiating rules were enshrined in law.

The landmark bill received the final tick of approval on Thursday when parliament’s lower house agreed to the government’s changes, which were made after negotiations with tech giants.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims is confident the heavily amended code will still curtail the immense market power of digital platforms.

“Google and Facebook need media but they don’t need any particular company and that (previously) meant media companies couldn’t do commercial deals with Facebook or Google,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The purpose of the code is to give them the potential for arbitration, which helps their bargaining position, and therefore helps them reach fair commercial deals.”

So far, large media organisations including News Corp and Nine have been the main beneficiaries of deals struck with the online behemoths.

“In any situation like this you would expect deals to be done with the bigger players first and then work down the list,” Sims said.

“Given this is supporting journalism, it’s naturally going to see more money going to those who’ve got the most journalists but I don’t see any reason why anybody should doubt that all journalism will benefit.”

Sims expects the online giants to seal deals with smaller players in time.

“I just don’t see why Google and Facebook would leave them out,” he said.

Facebook, following in Google’s footsteps, says it plans to invest $US1 billion to “support the news industry” over the next three years.

Facebook said on Tuesday it would lift a ban on news links in Australian after the government agreed to tweak the media code legislation.

Facebook was criticised for its ban, which also temporarily cut access to government pandemic, public health and emergency services on the social networking site.

Facebook said the changes allowed it to choose which publishers it would support and indicated it would now start striking such deals in Australia.

Google had already been signing content licensing deals with Australian media companies, and says it has arrangements with more than 50 publishers in the country and more than 500 globally.

Facebook is also exploring potential licensing agreements in the coming year with Canadian media outlets and expanding its investment in local journalism initiatives, a source familiar with the company’s thinking says.

The move comes as the Canadian government is preparing to introduce legislation in the coming months along the lines of the Australian model.

But the source said Facebook viewed the situation in Australia as unique.

“You’re looking at a country that is by and large dominated by one large media conglomerate that has a very heavy influence on government and government policies,” the source said on Wednesday, pointing out that most countries did not have that.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp owns two-thirds of Australia’s major city newspapers.

The conversations around licensing are taking place at a high level, and the source compared the potential licensing agreements to those Facebook obtained to use music in Instagram stories and reels.

The source, who is not authorised to speak about the matter publicly, declined to say which Canadian publishers Facebook would consider for licensing talks.

Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, in charge of crafting legislation, condemned Facebook’s decision to shut down all news sites in Australia for several days, and said it would not deter Ottawa from introducing new rules.

Facebook announced on Wednesday it would raise its funding of news publishers to $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion) over three years.

Canada’s news media industry has come out hard against Facebook and asked the government for more regulation of tech companies, to allow the industry to recoup financial losses it suffered as Facebook and Google steadily gained greater market shares of advertising.

-with AAP

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