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CRA, Free TV and MEAA give thoughts on mandatory payment code for tech giants

Several industry bodies have responded to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with suggestions on how Facebook and Google should pay for content as part of the new mandatory code.

More than just adjusting the status quo, the code has the potential to save the industry according to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).

The union said the compensation from the tech giants will go towards providing some sustainability for an industry which is currently struggling, said MEAA media section federal president Marcus Strom.

“Since January 2019 more than 200 broadcast and print newsrooms have closed temporarily or for good. So far in 2020, COVID-19 has contributed to the suspension or permanent closure of more than 100 newspaper mastheads, many of them in regional Australia. We estimate that the Australian media is on track to lose a further 1000 editorial jobs this year alone.

“The impact of this sudden and massive decline in Australian media is profound. It means that communities have lost their local voice and there is less scrutiny of powerful interests,” he said.

The union has asked for a clear timetable for discussions, especially considering the urgency of the outcome. MEAA notes that advertising revenues across the media industry have declined, while those at Facebook and Google are on the rise.

MEAA said the mandatory code needs to be narrowly defined. It must settle on a common value for news content; agree on mechanisms to measure the use of the content by Google and Facebook and then a defined payment system should be agreed upon. MEAA says this could be done via a collection agency.

The code should apply to the creation of defined news content regardless of the size or scale of the content creator. This could range from a freelancer or blogger up to the biggest media houses.

The industry body for the commercial TV industry, Free TV, also added its voice to the debate, saying the platforms should pay 10% of their Australian revenue to news media business.

Free TV’s Bridget Fair

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said: “Despite the significant value obtained by Google and Facebook from the news content of Free TV broadcasters, they do not receive fair payment for the use of their content on the core services of Google Search, Facebook Newsfeed and Instagram.

“Under the model proposed by Free TV, this value would be collected and distributed to Australian news media businesses to enable the continued investment in local news media services.

“This model should be established and enforced by the ACCC, who will also need strong powers to protect against punitive responses by Google and Facebook. It must be illegal for Google or Facebook to deindex or downrank content that is subject to the mandatory Code of Conduct,” said Fair.

Commercial Radio Australia (CRA), the industry body for the radio industry, suggested a collective licensing-fee arrangement to allow radio broadcasters to share in the revenue.

In its submission, CRA said commercial radio stations should be compensated by the digital platforms for the value derived from the use of their content, which includes both advertising revenue and the generation of consumer data.

CRA supports an income-based approach, suggesting that a bargaining code would only benefit news media and potentially exclude radio content.

CRA wants radio to get a slice of the mandatory payment code

CRA argued the code should contain a provision exempting commercial radio from compliance with a news threshold, to reflect radio’s contribution to local communities and integrated programming style.

CRA was particularly concerned by the fact on-air interviews are often ‘ripped off’ by online sites, with Google then directing consumers to those pages instead of radio. The body said the code should require Google to prioritise original content.

The draft code is expected to be released for public consultation before the end of July.

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