Via Zoom, Australia’s Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has the expression of a man in the middle of a victory speech. He credits his team and the country’s competition regulator for succeeding where others had failed: forcing tech giants to pay for news. “A lot of people were saying you couldn’t really take on the global digital giants,” he says, sitting under the light bar in his constituency office in Sydney. But Fletcher and Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg persevered. In 2020, when the Australian Government asked the competition authority to develop a law that would force tech giants to pay for the news that appeared on their feeds, Fletcher was aware of the stories that others were using as warnings. When Germany’s largest news publisher, Axel Springer, tried to block Google from publishing snippets of its articles in 2014, it was traced back after just two weeks, traffic collapsed. When Spain tried to force Google to pay for news in 2014, the search giant simply left the country and blocked Google News in the country for seven years.
Google threatened Australia with even more drastic measures. In January 2021, the tech giant suggested Australians could lose access to its entire search engine if Fletcher and Frydenberg’s “news media bargaining code”, which would force platforms to pay news publishers for links, went into effect. Facebook has also campaigned heavily against the code, arguing that news makes up for it less than 4 percentthe content people see in their newsfeed. On February 17th, Australians woke up to find that all news links had been deleted from the platform, leaving the Facebook pages of the country’s largest media outlets completely blank. Access to news websites fell 13 percent, which illustrates exactly what the government was concerned about. Facebook’s actions are “affirming for all Australians [the] immense market power of these digital media giants,” says Frydenberg called back then.
Despite this, the government did not back down. According to Fletcher, the Code was Australia’s answer to a problem that was primarily about competition. The argument was simple: Australia’s news industry should be compensated for helping Google and Facebook gain attention. “We’re trying to replicate the normal business relationships that would take place in a market where there isn’t a huge imbalance of bargaining power,” he says.
However, others suspect that the code was actually an attempt to subsidize the media industry, which was suffering from intense online advertising competition. For every AUD 100 spent on advertising in 2019, AD$53 ($38) went to Google, AD$28 to Facebook and AD$19 to all other sites, including media companies. according to to Australia’s competition watchdog. If that was the reason for the code, Bloomberg editors wrote a comment describing it as a misdiagnosis. “The business model of journalism was not broken by digital platforms” said“[the internet] offered consumers a wealth of free news and opinion, and gave advertisers options and audiences that traditional publishers couldn’t match.”
Australians experienced this standoff through their Facebook feeds. There was no news on the site for eight days. Then, at 1 a.m. on February 26, 2021, news content began reappearing, reversing users’ feeds to how they always looked. But behind the scenes, technology’s relationship with the media had been constantly changing.
Google and Facebook have not gone; They paid and made deals with news organizations to pay for the content they display on their sites for the first time. Officially approved on March 2, 2021, the code legally required tech platforms to negotiate a price in order to pay news publishers for their content. Otherwise, an arbitrator would step in to not only force the platforms to pay, but also to set the price. A year after the introduction of the media code, Google has 19 content deals with news organizations and Facebook 11, according to Fletcher.
Now countries around the world are looking to Australia code as a blueprint for how to subsidize the news and stop the proliferation of “news deserts” – communities that no longer have a local newspaper. Canada is expected to propose its own version in March. media associations in both the USA and New Zealand call for a similar policy. British culture minister Nadine Dorries is also reportedly planning to force platforms to go on strike Cash for content Offers.
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