A battle has been heating up between tech giant Google and a combined effort between major News Companies and The Australian Government, the result could change the way Google operates in Australia for the worse.
The News Media Bargaining Code, which was made into a concept paper on May 19, 2019, then made into draft legislation on June 31, 2020, is a long and complicated piece of paper that has been created mostly by Australian News Media Companies like NewsCorp (Owned by Worldwide Media Monopolist Rupert Murdoch) & Nine Entertainment Co (A part of the larger Fairfax Media Empire). The code was drafted in order to do a few things, most of which the news media is not making public as they are pushing a victim narrative against the tech giant known as Google. The news media stories posted recently state that Google is trying to fight against paying the “poor” and “downfallen” news companies large amounts of revenue generated from people accessing news websites via Google web searches. A claim Google has said that they have done started to do, and also given redirection to those news sites using “millions of free clicks”. Obviously this is not enough for some of the News Media companies as the code is doing more than just making Google pay it’s “fair share”.
In an open letter published through their own site, and mirrored every time you access Google or Youtube, Google has stated that the draft legislation would allow for Australian Media Interests to force Google to hand over top-secret information that is used in running Google services like the code for the search and priority algorithm, private consumer data, and also force Google to prioritize Australian News Media websites and companies in search results in Australia over international sources and websites, not to mention forcing Google to advertise and prioritize Australian News Youtube Channels (and their associated Entertainment holdings) over original and consumer-created content. This would put everything that Google does as a somewhat neutral search website at risk and destroy the idea of net neutrality at risk once again. Yes, this is the Australian Government helping their big news media friends to do what so many American companies have tried, and failed, to do.
Google has stated the following in regards to the ACCC, Australian Government and Australian News Media’s claims about Google avoiding paying the companies for the news reports and articles it references through its search website:
“We (Google) deeply believe in the importance of news to society. We partner closely with Australian news media businesses — we already pay them millions of dollars and send them billions of free clicks every year. We’ve offered to pay more to license content. But rather than encouraging these types of partnerships, the law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk”
What this means is that Google already pays for the news content, and has made an offer that has been refused by the News companies who want an even higher rate of payment, not taking into account that Australian News Websites also gets paid via things like subscription models (A majority of NewsCorp news websites are subscription-based and paywalls 95% of their content behind it) and also… shock!… Google Adwords! (Used by Fairfax Media news websites and entertainment media sites)
However, this is not enough for the News Media Empires as they state the following about how Google has affected the News Media business:
“You (Google) have exploited your understanding of our personal interests and behaviors to draw advertisers away from traditional media, destroying the business model that supported independent journalism for more than 150 years. In the past decade, more than 5,000 Australian journalists have lost their jobs as your share of advertising has grown and grown. You have also been happy to use stories written by those journalists as if they were your own work, deriving value from something that isn’t yours.”
~ Open reply letter from the Sydney Morning Herald (Surprisingly can’t find because it’s behind a paywall)
So once again, much like many other dying industries, the big News companies are blaming the advancement of digital technology for the drop off in physical media. It’s not like News media has become a very biased political broadcast platform that works on the whims of its billionaire owners (and their political friends) at all. Sure, it’s all the move to digital formats and the free nature of access that is to blame. It’s very obvious that all of this is just another try at getting private businesses to control some parts of the internet and finding a way to profit from it. The difference here is that unlike the American attempts at taking over control of the internet, this Australian version has a high chance of being successful.
The biggest challenge here is the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission), a “neutral” Government body that has the mandate to protect consumer rights, business rights, and obligations, perform industry regulation, price monitoring, and prevent illegal anti-competitive behavior. But much like the Fair Work Commission (A similar Government body that is meant to work for the interests of business and it’s workers, but heavily sides with businesses), it has long stopped upholding anything to do with the ‘consumer’ part of its title and will always make decisions in favor of big business. Meaning that this draft legislation, which is due to be finalized and put into law as soon as the end of August, will pass without people knowing the truth of the matter till it is too late.
The news media websites have been heavily leaning on Google’s excessive profits worth in excess of $4.8 billion in revenue from Australia in 2019, including $4.3 billion in proceeds from digital advertising. It made $161 billion in revenue worldwide. While making the total net worth of News Corp – the biggest of the Australian news businesses – at $US9 billion, and Nine Entertainment Ltd at $US2 billion. No mention of the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is worth a total of $US17.8 billion, and Fairfax Media at $US3.1 billion respectively, just to make themselves look a lot worse than they really are. Another claim from the news media is that Google somehow by-passes the paywall system and shares their news for free via searching, something that is not only illegal, but Google doesn’t do at all. Finally, there is a claim that due to the changes made by the code, Google would be “forced” to make Australian users pay for access to previously free services that the company provides, again, something that Google has not stated ever will happen as it’s the news companies that have a paywall, not Google search.
When announcing the news bargaining code, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was designed to create a “level playing field” for digital platforms and Australian media businesses, which had been forced to work with them. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection, and a sustainable media landscape,” Mr. Frydenberg said.
What this really creates is a biased, news media controlled, Google search engine that provides what the biggest monopolies in Australian media wants people to see and not the thing that they are wanting to search for. This impacts students looking for news articles outside of their own country, as well as research reports published by non-media sources, represses political free speech and opinion, and even other types of sites like gaming will be changed to show articles made by big news media over independent sources like… The Outerhaven!
This code has a huge impact on the way everything works for internet access in Australia. This is the Australian version of removing Net Neutrality in the favor of multi-billion dollar companies, opening the door to any other big media company to come in and get a piece of the internet access pie. Sure, this isn’t an ISP issue like many other attempts, but this is an attack for control over a company that has a huge part of the internet under their own control via branding. This battle is not something that the public can win either, as it is between private businesses and a Government. Sure, Google could remove, block, or change the way they operate in Australia (Removing Australian news sites from Google searches, remove links from Facebook, etc), but Google wants to keep with their pledge to be as neutral as possible when it comes to searches (Yeah we know how BS that sounds given Google’s stance on censoring searches on things like torrents, video websites, etc) and that is the way it should be.