The news media code that would require Google and Facebook to negotiate with media outlets over payment for content is set to be debated in parliament next week after a Senate committee approved the legislation without pushing for any amendments.
The coalition’s majority Senate committee report, tabled on Friday, noted “concerns raised by various authors and witnesses” about the operation of the code, but ultimately concluded that the legislation “would produce the intended results.”
“Its provisions will provide the basis for a fairer relationship between the media and Google/Facebook and, through this, help to protect public interest journalism in Australia. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the bill be passed.
In separate minority reports from Labor and the Greens, both expressed concerns but ultimately backed the bill.
Labor has called on the government to clarify how it will designate digital platforms. Under the legislation, a minister can designate how all or part of a digital platform’s services might be subject to the code, and should therefore negotiate with media companies for payments.
The federal government has already excluded YouTube from the code at Google’s request, and negotiations have continued between Google and news media companies for those companies to receive payment for participating in the Google News Showcase product, which has been launched. in Australia last week with 25 mastheads.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated that the government may be open to a compromise on how the code could be applied to Google if the company strikes deals with enough publishers before adoption and entry into force. force of the legislation.
Nine, the parent company of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, has previously said it will not participate in negotiations with Google for News Showcase until the code is introduced. A spokesman for Nine on Friday called on parliament to pass the legislation.
“Now is the time to act and legislate the media code,” he said.
Labor senators on the committee called on the federal government to “use specific language in public statements regarding designations it intends to make under the code” to clarify how exactly the code would apply to Google. and Facebook.
This would avoid potentially wider consequences, including for businesses in Australia, if Google pulls its search product from Australia, as has been threatened, or if Facebook stops allowing Australian users to view or post links. to news sites.
The Greens have called for a requirement in the code for news media publishers to spend revenue generated by the code on public interest journalism, and for the government to establish a permanent news gathering trust. public interest, with financial support for the AAP. Newswire service is not eligible under the code.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement that the legislation would be debated in parliament the week of February 15, and that the government expected negotiations between the platforms and the news media companies continue in the meantime.
“The government expects all parties to continue to work constructively to reach trade agreements in the spirit of collaboration and good faith encouraged by the code,” they said.
“The code will be reviewed by the Treasury one year after it comes into force to ensure that it delivers results consistent with the government’s policy intent.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the report.
“We hope the Australian Government will agree on a workable solution that genuinely protects the long-term sustainability of the news industry,” she said.
Google’s director of public policy and government affairs for Australia and New Zealand, Lucinda Longcroft, said the company remained committed to a “workable” code with proposed amendments around arbitration and applying the code to News Showcase.
“We look forward to engaging with policymakers throughout the parliamentary process to address our concerns and achieve a code that works for everyone – Australian publishers, digital platforms, businesses and users,” she said. in a press release.
Microsoft, the owner of Bing – Google’s closest search rival – on Thursday night called on the Biden administration in the United States to adopt Australia’s news media code, arguing that Facebook and Google had lobbied the company. former Trump administration to oppose it.
Microsoft chairman Brad Smith said in the blog post that although Bing makes up less than 5% of the Australian search engine market, the company believes its bid to fill the void left by Google if the company pulls out. of Australia ultimately resulted in Google backing off.
“Within 24 hours, Google was on the phone with the Prime Minister, saying they didn’t really want to leave the country after all. And the link on Google’s search page with his threat to leave? It disappeared from the day the next day,” Smith said.
Google said its search results pop-up was only supposed to appear for 24 hours and the meeting with the prime minister was arranged weeks in advance.
Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, said in a blog post that Microsoft was “eager to impose an unworkable tax on a rival and grow market share.”