By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 26 February 2021: The passing of the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 by the Australian Parliament is a landmark law that creates a voluntary framework for Google and Facebook to pay selected Australian media houses for their content used on their platforms. Google already has moved in this direction and Facebook after its unprecedented ban on Australian content on its platform reached an agreement with the government, which agreed to some amendments to the then-proposed law. Facebook has, meanwhile, started restoring its services in Australia, but it is taking time.
The new law says it will “..establish a mandatory code under which registered Australian news business corporations and designated digital platform corporations must comply with requirements including provision of information and non-differentiation and may bargain about the amount to be paid for making available certain news content on designated platform services.” (Bills Digest, Parliament of Australia, 15 February 2021).
The controversial law was contested by big-tech saying Australia does not understand the business model they follow. Big Australian media companies have been seeing their advertising revenue shifting drastically to Google and Facebook over the years. The rationale behind the code is ” The Bill seeks to address a bargaining power imbalance that exists between digital platforms and Australian news businesses which was identified in the Final Report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, ” says the Bills Digest, Parliament of Australia.
It now remains to be seen whether the new law will cruise the traditional media out of its revenue blues created by the rise of social media platforms. The new law is an outcome of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry which took three years of public
inquiry and debate about the relationship between news media, audiences, advertising, and the platform companies. The issue is important and is likely to expand as at present Google and Facebook have a monopoly on advertising revenue and they are not considered media companies. So, media companies will and are in competition with social media platforms that deal with media content in many ways but are not media companies. In fact, there is much more to the story.
Interestingly, the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are included in the news media code. But the ethnic media and other smaller media are not part of the code, despite widely catering to the Australian people in English and different languages and being very much connected to Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Are they not investing in news content being used and accessed through Google, Facebook and Twitter? This may look like a bit overreach attempt but is a potent view.