13 April 2020




SUBJECT(s): Fair recompense for news media; digital platforms.

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live is Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, thank you for your time. There's been an absolute landmark case out of France where they are forcing their digital giants to pay publishers for using their content. Would you like to see the same thing happening in Australia?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, certainly what’s come out of this ruling in France, Annelise, is that there is a requirement for Google to negotiate with the publishers for fair remuneration for the display of news content. And in this case, it was about news snippets. Now the EU of course operates differently to Australia, they have Member States who implement EU laws and directives in different ways, but I think there are two things to take out of this. Firstly as has been demonstrated by the views of our competition regulator the platforms, and in this case Google, do wield significant market power; and secondly, there is recognition that there should be fair compensation for news in the way that it's displayed by these platforms. And for the publishers this can't come soon enough in Australia.

NEILSEN: And we've seen these digital platforms really drag their feet on this because they aren’t making a lot of money out of it. They don't have to come to the table without strong enforcement action from the government. Should the government be putting a heavier hand on these digital platforms to come to the table and negotiate?

ROWLAND: It is correct in what you say that the platforms have in effect said that their revenue stream from news is a drop in the ocean, but that drop is an absolute tsunami in terms of the impact that it has on traditional news media – and we're not talking about cat videos. I mean the internet is a great equaliser. People can upload any number of things but news is different. News is a function of intellectual rigour and skill and that labour should be properly remunerated. But Rod Simms has indeed given some indications that his confidence in this process doesn't appear to be one hundred percent. It does have until next month for these negotiations to have some progress report and if not by November there could be more serious repercussions. But the reality is that regulators all over the world are looking at one another now, with Google being a global company having different and yet significant impacts. In Australia of course, the issue has been the decline in advertising revenues combined with this lack of fair compensation. That is having a marked impact on particular markets. Regional media, for example, is at real risk of becoming a news desert when it comes to local news content. Many of your viewers, Annelise, will be in a similar position to me where all of my local papers have now closed. There are opportunities for hyper local news to develop on the platforms, but again, that depends on there being some fair recompense with the platforms coming to the table.

NIELSEN: With the focus off from Anthony Albanese then, you mentioned the lack of local papers. Now, they've been put under increasing pressure during coronavirus because while readership is absolutely up, revenue is down. Why was the Opposition Leader asking about ABC funding in the House when he could have been asking about funding for the entire media sector?

ROWLAND: Well, I think everyone recognises the importance that our public broadcasters serve and during this pandemic of course our two national broadcasters – the ABC and SBS – are putting out a lot of information in multiple languages, doing their jobs there. The ABC is doing its job as the national broadcaster in a multitude of ways including providing education opportunities for students. But the reality is the Fourth Estate remains particularly important during these times. We don't want fake news dominating news feeds. We want reliable quality journalism from all sources.

And I must say that during the bushfires, it was the commercial media, and I’ve acknowledged this on many occasions, that commercial media as well as our public broadcasters, pulled together to get through that. And again, I pay tribute to the Fourth Estate for the job that it is doing here in helping to dispel many myths that are going around about the current pandemic in particular.

Of course, it's important for our regional media to be viable. It's disappointing that we’ve come to this point where Michael McCormack, for example, only a few weeks ago after I wrote to him saying that I think it's important to support regional media through your new Regional Communities Fund remained to be convinced of this. Now looks like they may have changed their mind on this, we will see in the next few days. But in the meantime, it still remains a very, very serious issue that we don't have a long-term plan for regional media in particular, and certainly, many aspects of the media sector, aspects of reform, continue to go untouched.

NEILSEN: And this is a discussion that has well predated coronavirus but it is becoming increasingly urgent for media companies in that our information is becoming more important. It's been handed out for free. We're not seeing that recompense and so we might get to the stage where we are under increasing pressure to get accurate information out. Are you concerned the government's going to put this on the back burner? We don't have even sitting days until August. What can Labor do to put this issue front of mind for the government?

ROWLAND: Well, in my role as the spokesperson in this area Annelise, I think it’s important to state what the facts are on these issues. I also think it's important to indicate that, exactly as you said, this issue did not arise overnight, but the media sector has been particularly exposed after seven years of inaction by this government. It’s a long list of inaction including when it comes to Australian content rules, including when it comes to a plan for regional media, and spectrum reform which was being touted even when Malcolm Turnbull was the Communications Minister. So I think it's important that we display confidence in the regulator and Labor certainly has confidence that the regulator is doing its utmost in these tasks. But let us remember that this inquiry, to the point where we've got now, was actually announced three years ago. We can't wait another three years. This is urgent for the Fourth Estate. It's urgent for Australian consumers, irrespective of where they live in Australia.

NEILSEN: Michelle Rowland, Shadow Communications Minister. Thank you for your time.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.