Big Tech media bargaining code review begins before govt activates it


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

A review has been launched into the Big Tech media bargaining code, before the federal government has formally activated it.

The News Media Bargaining Code came into effect in early March last year, requiring designated tech firms to enter into forced arbitration with Australia media companies to determine revenue-sharing deals for the use of their content.

Paul Fletcher
Communications minister Paul Fletcher

As part of the legislation, a review of the code was required to be launched within 12 months of it passing into law.

This review has now been launched by Treasury, looking at the extent to which the code has achieved its objective of sustaining public interest journalism in Australia.

To fully come into effect, a company must be designated under the code, and the federal government has declined to do so in the one year since it was launched. Instead, it has argued that the mere presence of the code has helped several Australian media companies secure financial deals with Facebook and Google, making designation unnecessary.

This has meant that the tech giants have so far avoided any forced arbitration, and have also dodged requirements to provide more transparency around their algorithms to the media companies.

The one-year review of the code has been seen as an opportunity to further push for one or both of the tech giants to be designated under the code, bringing it into effect.

The Treasury review of the code will look at the extent to which it has delivered outcomes consistent with its policy objectives, and any potential improvements to it.

Since February last year, Google and Facebook have entered into financial agreements with about 30 Australia media companies, the government said.

But there are concerns that Facebook in particular is refusing to enter into deals with smaller publishers after the social media giant refused negotiations with The Conversation and SBS.

Communications minister Paul Fletcher has acknowledged these concerns, and said the review is a chance to look at what needs to be done to improve this situation.

“The Morrison government notes that some news organisations, including smaller and independent publishers, have expressed concerns they have been unable to reach a commercial deal,” Mr Fletcher said.

“We urge the digital platforms to continue negotiating in good faith to ensure that the review is able to consider the full extent of progress made under the code.”

A recent academic paper by Diana Bossio, Terry Flew, James Meese, Tama Leaver and Belinda Barnet recently raised concerns that the revenue-sharing deals may lead to a dependency from the media firms on these large tech firms.

“Like many elements of the News Media Bargaining Code, with no platforms initially designated, the legislation is less about its wording and more about its cumulative weight as a weapon to force payments from the world’s biggest technology companies,” the paper said.

“How well the nuances of the legislation work will only be tested if the political will changes, and a company is designated and thus subject to the full complexity of the [code].”

The algorithm transparency clause in the code may actually be more “radical” than the financial deals, the researchers found, but this is “entirely lost with no platforms being designated”.

Treasury will be releasing a consultation paper as part of the review in the coming weeks, and will provide a final report to the Treasurer and communications minister in September.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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