Code contention: CarExpert backs Google & Facebook, others fear the implications

The co-founders of CarExpert – who also founded CarAdvice, before it was bought by Nine and retired as a brand late last year – have waded into the contentious News Media Bargaining Code debate, throwing its support behind both Google and Facebook.

CarAdvice owed much of its early success to Google, according to co-founders Alborz Fallah and Paul Maric, and CarExpert is now in a similar position. Both of the big platforms are welcome to access CarExpert content for free, they stated, because it benefits them too.

Fallah and his co-founder have expressed strong support for Facebook and Google

“Google has always been at the forefront of helping small publishers establish their brand,” said co-founder and managing editor, Maric.

“As a small publisher delivering high quality, independent car review content that outdoes traditional media in passion, enthusiasm and engagement, is wholly reliant on Google and Facebook to reach the Australian audience.”

Maric claimed the site “could not exist today and employ around 20 staff without the search engine’s fairness in how it treats all publishers”.

Fallah added that “we know the power of Google in building brands”. The government should also prioritise small to medium publishers, he said, but the code “clearly only benefit[s] big media”.

The founders also agreed that Facebook and Google should have continued free access to CarExpert content.

“It means that this content is easier for our readers to find – which in turn means they’re better informed and able to make smarter decisions – which is what we are all about,” Fallah said.

“Forcing Google and Facebook to pay for access to professional content is not in the interests of Australian audiences because it’s the audience that suffers from losing its connection to content it can trust – and the audience relies on search engines and social networks to access that content.”

CarExpert’s position comes as the stoush between the platforms and publishers continues to escalate. Last week, Google admitted it was trialling burying links to news sites for a small percentage of users, in an experiment Nine called a “chilling illustration of their extraordinary market power”.

Recently, Google’s managing director, Mel Silva, asserted that the code would “break” its search engine, and focused on 426 submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), 80% of which “flag significant concerns” according to Google’s analysis.

A number of smaller publishers are among the entities with reservations with the code in its current form, which was introduced to parliament late last year.


Australian Associated Press (AAP) risks not being captured by the code at all, and missing out on the digital platforms’ dollars. The company’s submission to the ACCC, made last year but made public just before Christmas, noted that the definition of a ‘news business’ may not include a news wire service, and therefore “places it [AAP] in a worse competitive position than any other news media organisation in Australia”.

“Not only does AAP not benefit from the inclusion of its content on Digital Platforms, it has directly suffered revenue losses due to the indexing,” it wrote.

“Many of the nation’s mainstream broadcasters who were once major subscribers now simply access the AAP content through the Digital Platforms without paying for it.

“For AAP the changing commercial dynamics have resulted in the destruction of its customer base, in particular broadcasters, who have cancelled AAP subscription services worth millions of dollars because in the words of one TV media executive: ‘We just Google it’.”

Digital publishers

A number of digital platforms – including Junkee, Broadsheet, Concrete Playground, and Urban List – issued a joint statement last year expressing media diversity fears associated with the code.

Broadsheet made a separate submission, and is extremely supportive of the code. However, it did express that: “Our great and significant fear is that if Broadsheet, and similarly focused publishers, are not eligible, we will face unfair competition from large, horizontally integrated media businesses with access to increased resources on the back of new revenues, calculated based on the same type of ‘covered news’ that we publish.”

And Junkee’s editorial director, Rob Stott, told Mumbrella that it doesn’t want the code to damage its positive relationships with Facebook or Google. The Ooh Media title’s support for the code hinges on Google and Facebook not abandoning news as a result.

“We are generally supportive of the Draft News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code and its intent to address the power imbalance that exists between the tech platforms and digital platforms, such as ourselves, in order to maintain and grow a more diverse media landscape in Australia,” Stott said.

“For us, the proposal for individual or collective bargaining with the platforms is sensible, and will enable us to invest additional revenues we negotiate directly into the production of more high-quality public interest journalism.

“However, our support is contingent on the code not resulting in Facebook and Google restricting their presence in the Australian market given the important benefits they have played in allowing us to reach our audiences for some time now. We have had a longstanding positive relationship with both Google and Facebook, and it would be disappointing if the Code were to significantly damage that.”

The Conversation

According to its submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into the News Media Bargaining Code, Google accounts for 53% (and Facebook 8%) of The Conversation’s traffic. The organisation’s journalism has been partially funded by the digital platforms through grants, and occupies a unique position in this debate: as a not-for-profit, The Conversation doesn’t want payment from the platforms in order to feed money back to shareholders.

But while The Conversation benefits from the platforms, its submission also recognised that the digital platforms would have a “significantly diminished product in the absence of the work of journalists and other professional content creators”.

The Conversation’s Misha Ketchell also noted that while the outlet supports the code, it has a number of concerns, including the annual revenue threshold of $150,000, which “might rule out some new and smaller media players”.

Digital platform deals, and Sorrell’s thoughts

Importantly, a number of publishers also have, or had, deals with Facebook or Google.

Sorrell has also made a submission

The Publisher Curated News initiative saw InDaily’s publisher Solstice Media, Crikey’s publisher Private Media, The Saturday Paper’s publisher Schwartz Media, and Australian Community Media (ACM) have deals with Google. And late in 2019, outlets including Nine, Seven, SBS, Ten, Junkee and Sky News entered into exclusive content partnerships with Facebook.

But while the big news companies overwhelmingly support the code, not all in the broader industry share their view. S4 Capital’s Sir Martin Sorrell made a submission to the Senate Inquiry in which he said “the suggested benefits of the proposed code provide a short term solution for a narrow benefiting audience while providing a global precedent with far wider reaching implications for private enterprise, digital platforms and the internet”.


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