ACCC estimates deals under News Media Bargaining Code total over $200m

At the second day of the public hearings yesterday by House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts on the adequacy of regional news, the News Media Bargaining Code (the Code) was again discussed, with many acknowledgments it was not, nor was intended to be, a “silver bullet”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) executive general manager, digital platform branch Tom Leuner said: “We know many deals have been struck because of the existence of the Code. If it weren’t for the Code, we don’t think those deals would have been struck. We don’t have a monitoring function in relation to the exact dollar quantum of those deals. But a strong sense, based on preliminary analysis, it’s $200 million upwards potentially.

Tom Leuner

“In relation to regional media, which I know is a great interest here, we can sort of separate out the money that’s gone to regional and non-regional. We do know players like Country Press Association, many of their members, I understand around 60, have now got a deal that will see them receiving money from Google. And I understand there’s also deals with many of those members with Facebook as well.”

The commercial deals that are reached under the Code are commercial-in-confidence, and it is unknown what the exact amount the various deals with news businesses totals.

Leuner further noted that, as no platforms have yet been designated under the Code: “It’s only that threat there that’s sitting over Google and Facebook that is encouraging them to do these commercial deals. So until designation actually happens, most of the Code doesn’t really come into effect.”

In September 2021, Facebook told several Australian publishers it had stopped negotiating licensing deals, including SBS as well as The Brag and The Conversation. SBS was successful in joining the Google News Showcase a month later.

SBS director, news & current affairs Mandi Wicks said: “Unfortunately, [Facebook have] chosen not to do an agreement with us at this stage. We don’t have a particular reason as to why that is the case. We would welcome further negotiation with them in order to continue to invest in public service journalism.”

When questioned on this further, SBS director corporate affairs Clare O’Neil confirmed SBS had not received further communications from Facebook. A review of the Code was announced prior to the hearing in which the Federal Government urged digital platforms to continue to negotiate in good faith.

Another topic of discussion, which was also brought in the first day of hearings, was that the trend downwards for regional news was something that had been occurring for some time.

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications first assistant secretary, online safety, media & platforms division Pauline Sullivan said: “We are looking at an industry that’s in structural decline and it has been declining over 20 or 30 years with a range of technological changes, the most recent being the rise of the internet and digital platforms…. our view would be that with any industry that’s instructional decline, you need a range of interventions over time to support the transition of that industry to new business models.”

In terms of recommendations, Sullivan said: “I think that that ability to do collective bargaining is a great way for smaller publishers to have an opportunity to enter into commercial agreements. With the upcoming review that was announced yesterday, that’s an opportunity for Treasury to look at how those commercial agreements have gone.”

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications assistant secretary, media reform branch James Penprase said: “We’ve seen the trend over the last five years of a lot of print publications, closing and shifting to online distribution. And news publishers will need to make a judgment about where their consumer base is at. A lot of people still like to read a newspaper and that’s the reality.

“So, it’s very difficult to forecast where an industry and its distribution may go. There are obvious trends in place. From a policy perspective, there are a couple of important things. One; that the news is produced that’s locally relevant, that it keeps communities informed. And two; that it’s accessible and readily provided and consumers are able to get to that comfortably and easily. Now where that distribution mechanism is, is a judgment for those businesses themselves.”

In terms of the volume of applications under the Code, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) general manager, content & consumer division Cathy Rainsford told the hearing that: “As of the 25th of February this year, we’d received 41 applications to register [as]  news media bargaining businesses. We’d completed our assessment on 35 of those from them, 28 were found eligible and have been registered. And seven of those were found to be ineligible against the criteria set out in the legislation. The remaining six are still under assessment at the moment.”

The ACMA is the body that decides whether a business is to be defined as a news business in accordance with the legislation.


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