Digital publishers unite with fears ACCC code may ‘disadvantage the rich variety of new media voices’

Ten of the country’s leading digital publishers have united with concerns the ACCC’s News Media Bargaining Code may hurt diversity in the Australian media landscape.

The group have urged Facebook, Google and the ACCC to work together to ensure the new code, which is currently under review, doesn’t ‘disadvantage the rich variety of new media voices that have sprung up over the last decade and a half’.

A statement from the group was released to the media today and will be forwarded to the ACCC next week. The publications taking part include Junkee Media, Broadsheet Media, Concrete Playground, Urban List, We Are Explorers, Starts at 60, Man of Many, The Daily Aus, Science Alert and Acid Stag.

“We all believe [Google, Facebook and the ACCC] need to work out a solution that will not see Australian media consumers or small publishers harmed in the worthy pursuit of greater equality in the Australian media landscape,” said the group.

“We acknowledge this is a complex issue, but Facebook’s threat to remove all news content from the Australian marketplace would have serious ramifications for Australian audiences, be a hit to media diversity and would increase the threat of misinformation in the middle of a pandemic if trusted publishers’ voices cannot be heard.”

The group said that banning news content from Facebook, which is something the platform has threatened to do in response to the News Media Bargaining Code, would have an ‘outsized’ effect on smaller, digital publishers and would only serve to further hurt small businesses in industries like tourism and the arts.

“We believe it is important for measures to be introduced to bring the Australian media industry to a more even playing field, however we are concerned that the current proposal has potential to just further entrench the large traditional media companies and accidentally destroy media diversity in the process.”

The statement from the publishers comes as Google issued an update to its open letter to Australians about the code, saying it believes the code would need three changes to work.

Google Australia managing director, Mel Silva, said the first change would need to be to the section which instructs the tech giant to inform publishers when changes are made to its algorithm. Google maintains this would ‘disadvantage’ other users of its platform and Youtube.

“This requirement of the draft law could be amended to require only reasonable notice about significant actionable changes,” said Silva.

The second change, said Silva, would remove the suggestion that Google share additional data with publishers. The ACCC has made it clear that the implication that Google and Facebook would be forced to part with consumer data is incorrect.

“We know how important it is that your data is safe. The current draft law would require us to tell news businesses “how they can gain access” to data about how you use Google services, without any guarantees about the ways that any data that is provided might be used,” said Silva.

“This could be amended to make it clear that Google is not required to share any additional data, over and above what publishers are already supplied—protecting information about how Australians interact with our sites.”

Finally, Silva said the tech platform would need the ACCC to take into account the value the big tech platforms already provide to publishers. This is something both Facebook and Google have been vocal about, saying that they already deliver millions of dollars of value in clicks.

“These adjustments, among others, are necessary so you can continue to have full and fair access to Google Search and Youtube,” said Silva.


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