In the past twenty years, several global news forums expressed their dissatisfaction about internet companies making money at their expense and selling advertising linked to their reports without providing any share in the revenue. Thus, as a way to curb this Australia, along with France and other governments is pushing internet giants like Google, Facebook, etc. to pay some funds to the news outlets.
This is a possible way for the news industry to make more money and recover from revenue shrinks. However, this move has resulted in some serious clashes.
How did Google respond in Australia?
The proposed law i.e. “News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2020”, forces internet companies to pay a share of money to news organizations. Hence, initially, Google had threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia which would create a panel to make pricing decisions on the news.
However, now Google has agreed to pay certain publishers in Australia. It has declared deals with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Seven West Media, in which no financial details have been officially released yet, and it is said that the Australian Broadcasting Corp. is in negotiations.
"Over the years Google has invested significantly to help news organizations, including the Google News Initiative, our ad technology services, subscription tools, and our $1bn for news partnerships through Google News Showcase that pays publishers to curate content for an enhanced online news experience," remarked Don Harrison, Google's president of global partnerships.
Belinda Barnett, a lecturer in media at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne said, “It does sound like they have come up with a fairly lucrative deal for them, around AUD$30 million, but that figure has not been confirmed yet. Seven West owns quite a lot of regional outlets as well. So, it has the potential to benefit the regional news outlets that it owns and the journalists employed by them.”
Thus, this agreement opens new revenue opportunities for news outfits, although it is unclear whether this move will actually benefit readers, viewers and listeners with extra news coverage. Hence, the union formed by Australian journalists is trying to ensure that within media companies, online revenue is solely used for newsgathering.
Marcus Strom, president of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said “Any monies from these deals need to end up in the newsroom, not the boardroom.” “We will be pressing the case for transparency on how these funds are spent”, he further reinstated.
How did Facebook respond?
It is important to note that Facebook responded to this proposed law in an extremely different fashion. Facebook retaliated and blocked users from accessing and sharing official news. It argued that the proposed law “ignores the realities” of its dynamics with publishers who use Facebook as a platform to “share news content.”
In the company’s blog post, Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships stated “Today we made an incredibly difficult decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia.”
Campbell added, “What the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognize is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers.”
This decision by Facebook was condemned by government officials of Australia.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg remarked Facebook’s decision to be ‘unnecessary’ and said that it will hamper the social media platform’s reputation in the Australian land. He commented, ”Facebook was wrong, Facebook's actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,"
“Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when we spoke over the weekend,” he further added.
What is the scenario in other countries?
Even though Australia’s proposed law is one of the first ones, it is evident that other governments are also pushing for these internet companies to pay news outlets and publishers for the material.
In Europe, France was the first nation to enforce the rules. Thus, Google had to negotiate with French publishers in 2019 as the court upheld the 2019 European Union copyright directive which demanded agreements between these internet giants and news organizations.
AP news reported, “Google and a group of French publishers have announced a framework agreement for the American company to negotiate licensing deals with individual publishers.” “ The company has deals with outlets including the newspaper Le Monde and the weekly magazine l’Obs”, it added.
Facebook too, last year declared that it would fund several American news organizations like The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today for headlines. However, there has been no official announcement about the financial details of the same.
It was also witnessed that in 2014, Google shut its website in Spain after a law called for paying news publishers.
How does this matter have public relevance, especially to India?
These initiations in Australia and Europe prompt a shift in the financial balance between multibillion-dollar internet companies and news organizations.
“We will not be intimidated by this act of bullying by BigTech, seeking to pressure parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code… I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations… We…won’t be intimidated, just as we weren’t when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms”, stated the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported about his conversation with Modi on Thursday 18th Feb, where Morrison “raised concerns about Facebook and its power when the company is seeking help from the Indian government in a huge market”.
It is observed that every major country including the European Union, America, and India is attempting to regulate the powers of Facebook and Google to make them more accountable, especially over the issues of news revenue, privacy, misinformation, or antitrust abuse of monopoly.
However, the newly proposed Australian law is also under criticism as it would in reality offer very little benefits to small and independent journalists. It is probed that the additional money would be just transferred from these big tech platforms to the big media houses like NewsCorp.
The Quint stated, “Importantly, the proposed law also says nothing about media houses using the money to create journalism jobs, pay journalists better, spend on newsgathering or bolstering strong journalism.”