03 August 2020




SUBJECT: ACCC draft mandatory news code.
HOST: The code follows recommendations following an 18 month investigation by the ACCC which argued that digital giants should share income generated directly or indirectly by news content providers on their websites. Tahlia Kraefft asked Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Opposition Minister for Communications, whether this would work.
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, this is certainly a welcome development and the ACCC has been working on this matter for a number of years and it’s pleasing that Australian companies will now get a decent return on their investment in public interest journalism from digital platforms such as Google and Facebook. So, the code contains measures that address price and non-price terms and this is now up for consultation for the next couple of weeks. After that time, hopefully it will proceed to a point that will have returns for Australian media companies.
TAHLIA KRAEFFT, JOURNALIST: Do you expect that tech giants such as Google and Facebook will comply with the draft code outlined?
ROWLAND: Well, the interesting thing is that I’ve seen reports, even from Google today, threatening to dump their Google news service in Australia and that would of course have implications for them financially, but also for Australian consumers, in particular the potential for misinformation to be allowed to thrive on the internet basically. So, that is a concern. But, the thing about dynamic sectors, especially in ICT, is that regulation is preferable to having a situation where there is uncertainty about what the regulation might be. So, in some ways, you would think that the platforms would appreciate that there is a clear regulatory framework that has been proposed by the ACCC which makes compliance quite clear so that the regulatory boundaries are well known. But, as anticipated, we’re in this space where the platforms will argue about the code and it is the right of anyone at this point because it is open for consultation to present arguments for and against the draft and we should let that play out over the next four weeks or so.
KRAEFFT: How does the ACCC propose that the code of conduct be policed so that media organisations will get paid for their content?
ROWLAND: Well, that’s actually really interesting because what the ACCC has proposed is a negotiate-arbitrate model. So, a period in which negotiations and mediation can occur for around a three month period. If no agreement can be reached on that. then the process is called a binding final offer arbitration where each party submits their best and final offer and a decision is made which will be accepted. In some respects, that is quite an efficient way of doing this, but in another sense, this is also part of what the ACCC already does in a number of other sectors, including in telecommunications access disputes and has done that for many years. I guess one thing that hasn’t really come out in some of the commentary is the resourcing that the ACCC will need to do that. There is reference in the documentation to having arbitrators to call upon in order to conduct this work, but they will be quite specialist people who will be required to do that task. I mean, they will be doing something that really has not been done on a broad scale in the world before and that is valuing news content as it is disseminated by the platforms. So, it is actually moving into a very interesting period in this sector.
KRAEFFT: How do you expect that this draft code will impact news organisations and how will they be able to access these funds?
ROWLAND: This will be up to the process of negotiation and  arbitration but the whole point of this is about having the opportunities for collective bargaining and with this code there is strength in the collective. So, it depends on how many organisations choose to be part of that negotiating framework – the more the better. You would think that even from a purely theoretical basis that it would be desirable, which in a sense is why it is disappointing and doesn’t really make sense that the Government has excluded the public broadcasters – the ABC and SBS – from this scheme.
KRAEFFT: Do you think that this draft code is an appropriate solution to news companies that have experienced falls in ad revenue through COVID-19?
ROWLAND: I think it is a prudent approach and it is one that has not been thought up overnight. The ACCC has done extensive work here. As I’ve mentioned, the ACCC has extensive experience over many years in dealing with disputes over regulated facilities and services, so you would think that they do have the skills to do this. I think we do need to remember that this digital disruption did not happen overnight. You’ve got the market power of the platforms that has developed over some time, and the ACCC has made a finding in relation to that. Of course, you’ve also got declining advertising revenues over traditional media that have gone digital and added to that of course is the pandemic. It really is a difficult period for news organisations in Australia, but on the other hand, never before has the Fourth Estate in all its forms been so important for holding governments to account and keeping Australians reliably informed.
HOST: Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications, speaking there with Tahlia Kraefft.