Australia says law making Google pay for news a ‘success’

Treasury report says media outlets have signed more than 30 deals compensating them for news shared on platforms.

Google and Facebook logos
Google and Facebook [File: Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters]

Australia’s world-first law forcing Big Tech to pay for news has been a success and Canberra should consider extending it to social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter, a government report has found.

Canberra passed landmark legislation last year that obligates Google and Facebook to strike deals compensating media outlets for news content on their platforms or allow a government-appointed arbitrator to decide how much they should pay.

In a review of the bargaining code’s first year in operation, Australia’s Treasury said in a report released on Thursday that media outlets had signed more than 30 deals compensating them for news shared on Google and Facebook.

“On the evidence available to the review, at least some of these agreements have enabled news businesses to, in particular, employ additional journalists and make other valuable investments to assist their operations,” the report said.

“While views on the success or otherwise of the Code will invariably differ, we consider it is reasonable to conclude that the Code has been a success to date.”

While some participants in the review complained the code created “resource disparities” between media outlets with and without deals and commercial agreements lacked transparency, the code was not intended to “redistribute resources across the news sector,” the report said.

The Treasury’s report recommended the government ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to consider extending the code to other platforms, examine new powers to gather information about deals between outlets and platforms, and commission a review of the code after it has been in operation for four years.

Australia introduced the code amid complaints that tech companies were depriving struggling news organisations of valuable digital advertising revenues, putting public interest journalism at risk.

Australia’s plans to make Big Tech pay for news had been fiercely opposed by Google and Facebook, which temporarily removed all news from its platform in the country until the government agreed to amend the code.

Rob Nicholls, an expert in tech regulation at UNSW Business School at the University of New South Wales, said the law had been an important “safety net” for the country’s media industry.

“It’s best if there is a commercial deal without regulatory intervention. However, having regulations which are only triggered in the absence of a commercial deal is a reasonable model,” Nicholls told Al Jazeera.

“Canada has followed the same pattern. However, the very specific way that industry codes work as part of competition law in Australia means that extension to other sectors will be limited.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies