ACMA gets $4m for bargaining code oversight

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government has allocated more than $4 million to the oversight of the big tech media bargaining code, despite no companies being designated under it yet.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced on Wednesday morning that next week’s federal budget will include $4.2 million for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to undertake its role to oversee the news media bargaining code.

The bargaining code, passed by Parliament in late February, requires designated companies to enter into “final offer” arbitration to determine commercial revenue-sharing deals with Australian media companies.

Paul Fletcher
The govt has handed ACMA $4M to oversee the news media bargaining code

While the code has been passed into law, it doesn’t fully come into effect until the Treasurer moves to designate either Facebook or Google, which is yet to happen.

Both tech giants moved to ink a series of commercial deals with the big Australian media companies in the lead-up to the legislation passing, while Facebook also briefly blocked all news content for Australian users.

It’s unclear when or if the federal government will move to designate any company under the bargaining code.

The new funding for ACMA will allow it to administer an eligibility scheme under the code, register news businesses and maintain a register of arbitrators, Mr Fletcher said.

“Digital platforms have fundamentally changed the way that media content is produced, distributed and consumed, which is why the Morrison government introduced this world-leading code, to support a diverse and sustainable Australia news media sector,” Mr Fletcher said in a statement.

“We welcome the reports that Google and Facebook have reached commercial agreements with some news businesses for the use of their content, and encourage the parties to continue to negotiate deals in good faith. This is powerful evidence the code is already doing its job.”

The code also automatically allows smaller media companies to negotiate collectively with the tech giants over commercial deals, but this is also not in effect as no companies have been designated.

Last week the competition regulator authorised Country Press Australia members to bargain collectively with the tech companies to secure revenue sharing deals, the first authorisation of its kind in Australia.

Smaller publishing firms are required to apply to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) before they bargain collectively without the code being in force.

There are concerns that these smaller companies have not been able to secure revenue sharing deals with Facebook and Google and that they won’t be assisted by the code.

ACCC chair Rod Sims has backed the government’s claims that the presence of the code is helping media companies secure deals with Facebook and Google.

“We welcome the fact that both Facebook and Google appear to be successfully reaching voluntary deals with Australian news businesses, including a number of smaller publishers, following the passage of the bargaining code,” Mr Sims said last week.

“The onus now remains on Facebook and Google to continue to negotiate in good faith with news businesses of all sizes.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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