31 July 2020



FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2020

SUBJECT: Draft ACCC Mandatory News Code.

DANICA DI GIORGIO, HOST: For more on this, I’m now joined by Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Michelle, thank you so much for joining me. Firstly, what do you make of this mandatory code?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: This is certainly welcome progress in what has been a very protracted issue of media companies receiving a fair return for the investment that they place in public interest journalism. The reality is that not all content is created equal and as the ACCC made very clear in its report, there is a power imbalance as between the digital platforms and the media companies and that is what this draft code seeks to remedy.

DI GIORGIO: It’s hoped that it will now go to Parliament in the next couple of months. Will Labor give it bipartisan support?

ROWLAND: We will certainly be examining this closely and it will go through our normal processes. But what I will observe is that the ACCC has adopted a model that’s not entirely novel. In fact, this is what the ACCC has done in a number of sectors, when it comes to essential services and infrastructure, and that is a negotiate-arbitrate model. This is certainly an area of expertise that the ACCC has had for some time, and there will be amendments to the Australian competition law – the Competition and Consumer Act – and it will be an area in which the ACCC has operated before and in which new research has been undertaken. Again, this is about price, but also non-price terms which are very important for the publishers, including matters like how data is used and how algorithms are changed, and the transparency involved in that. So, the price and non-price terms are being addressed by the ACCC and that’s very important.

DI GIORGIO: It’s hoped that this will mean good news for the Australian news media itself. We know that thousands of jobs have been lost in the last couple of years because these big tech companies are not paying for content. Are you hopeful that this will have an impact?

ROWLAND: It should have an impact because the regulator has made it very clear that there is a process to be set out and followed, and that will become the norm. But also, I think we also need to remember that this has not been an issue that developed overnight. Digital disruption has been occurring for some decades now and that has meant that the traditional model of advertising revenues is no longer what it was for the publishers. It has resulted in hundreds of newsrooms and titles closing right around Australia, including in regional areas which is of particular concern because we now have parts of Australia that are basically news deserts when it comes to local reporting. At a time when we have Parliament not meeting regularly, when government still needs to be held to account, when we have a pandemic, when we’ve had so far this year significant natural disasters as well, the importance of the Fourth Estate and its role in our democracy has never been more crucial. So, every Australian has a stake in this.

DI GIORGIO: The ACCC says that this mandatory code is among some of the toughest in the world. There are $10 million fines. If these tech giants break the rules, does that go far enough?

ROWLAND: Well, in one sense, $10 million for these big companies is really not even a drop in the ocean. But it’s not so much the quantum of the fines, it’s the breach of the law and that itself will have consequences not only in a financial sense, but it will essentially saying to the regulator if these laws are flouted then “let’s see what else you’ve got”. I think the ACCC has been very ready to show what they’ve got so far in undertaking this very rigorous inquiry and also devising what is also in one sense, as I said, not a novel course of action but certainly a very workable one. But also one that sets out very clearly where the parties stand in relation to the timeframes for negotiation, the arbitration model on the binding final offer, is certainly one that litigators will tell you actually means that the process should be sped up in some respects because you have to present your best offer first rather than chipping away at it with the other side and this taking a long time for this to reach some resolution. So, in one sense, the amount of the fines are actually commensurate in some sectors of communications law. But on the other hand, the ACCC has gone out and made it very clear that they expect these laws to be followed and I certainly expect the Chairman to have something to say if this is not followed.

DI GIORGIO: Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time. Thank you for joining the show.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.