The Morrison government will introduce on Wednesday its legislation forcing Google and Facebook to face arbitration if they fail to come to commercial deals with traditional media on payment for content.
The government resorted to the mandatory bargaining code after it was clear agreement wouldn’t be reached for voluntary arrangements on content payment. A voluntary model had been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference Tuesday the government wanted the parties to reach deals outside the code. Where agreement could not be reached, the arbitration would kick in.
The ABC and SBS are among the media that will benefit from revenue under the legislation, which won’t be dealt with by parliament until next year.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the ABC had indicated it would devote the revenue it receives to regional journalism. He told Tuesday’s news conference the government would not seek to offset such revenue in its funding for the ABC.
The legislation will set minimum standards for digital platforms including requiring a fortnight’s advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes that have an impact on news media businesses.
The negotiations for payment will need to incorporate the value to providers of the additional eyeballs brought by having their content on the tech platforms.
This provision was put in following consultations on the code with the tech companies. But Frydenberg stressed the money flow was only one way – from the tech companies to the traditional media.
Frydenberg said it was the government’s intention “to ensure that the rules of the digital world mirror the rules of the physical world and ultimately to sustain our media landscape here in Australia”. He described the outcome as fair and balanced.
He said “we live in the age of digital disruption – and nowhere is this more apparent than in our media landscape.” Dollars spent on print advertising had fallen by 75% since 2005; in that time, dollars spent on online advertising increased eightfold.
The application of the code can be extended beyond Facebook NewsFeed and Google Search to other digital platform services if they “give rise to a bargaining power imbalance”. The treasurer has the power to add new services.
Frydenberg said “the word coming back to us is that there are deals that may be struck very soon between the parties”.
He described the scheme as a “world first– and the world is watching what happens here in Australia”.
The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said the legislation was a “globally significant response to the growing power of Big Tech”.
The centre’s director, Peter Lewis, said the move “would give media organisations a fighting chance at building a viable business model, in the face of the market domination of Google and Facebook”.
Lewis called for cross party support for the legislation.