Google fires back on ACCC News Media Bargaining Code after recent Nine, SWM comments

Google has outlined several reasons why it believes the ACCC’s News Media Bargaining Code is “one-sided” and contains “technically impossible” elements.

In a blog update, Google Australia & New Zealand VP Mel Silva outlined several serious concerns with the proposed code that will govern the relationship between news businesses and digital platforms if it becomes law.

Google Australia & New Zealand VP Mel Silva

While making it clear that Google supports the existence of a code, Silva said the company believes that the draft code is missing several fundamental elements.

“Over the past few months, we’ve made it clear that while we have serious concerns about the way the draft legislation is framed, we’re committed to working with the Government and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to get to a version of the Code that’s workable and fair for platforms, publishers and all Australians,” she said.

Specifically, the code “only looks at one side of the exchange,” Silva said. “This leaves news businesses free to make extreme claims without digital platforms being able to respond effectively, making an unfair outcome inevitable.”

In addition, Google believes the code must “preserve a system where publishers are free to decide whether their content can be found in Google Search or Google News” instead of forcing Google to include snippets and links to news content in its search, which it will be required to pay for.

“No other Code of Conduct in Australia forces one company to provide services to another company and pay them for the services they benefit from,” Silva said.

Finally, Silva explained that the code’s algorithm requirements would require Google give publishers advance notice of every algorithm change it makes, something she says is “technically impossible” because the platform makes thousands of updates every year.

“…even if it was achievable, it would give news businesses an unfair advantage over every other website owner, further undermining the open internet, and leaving users worse off,” she added.

The final code must include standard arbitration, Silva said, as well as allow for commercial agreements between Google and news businesses “which help fund the future of media in Australia”.

The announcement of Google’s current position follows major media players Nine and Seven doubling down with criticisms of platforms like Google and Facebook at their respective AGMs last week.

Both Nine chairman Peter Costello and CEO Hugh Marks reserved space in their addresses to shareholders for criticism of the negative impact that Facebook, Google and other global digital platforms have had on Australian businesses, creators and consumers.

“They are not subject to the content rules that apply to free-to-air broadcasters in the Australia market,” Costello said, before going on to criticise the platforms for contributing little to Australia’s unemployment rates during the pandemic.”

“They are able to use premium content we produce to attract audiences in the premium market,” he said. “They do not pay for it at a rate that fairly shares the cost of making it or fairly shares the value they get from it.”

In his AGM address, Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes said such digital platforms “operate on an entirely different playing field without being constrained by the myriad requirements placed on local media players.”

He went on to welcome the work being done by the ACCC to bring the platforms to account, before urging “political parties from all sides to implement changes in legislation recommended by the ACCC.”

In her statement, Silva did not name Nine or SWM but said major news businesses are arguing for a model “that misconstrues the ‘value transfer’ news businesses claim to provide to Google — and ignores the more than $200 million in annual value that Google provides to publishers.

“In other words, major news businesses would simply be entitled to discuss the amount of revenue they’d like to be transferred from Google’s accounts to theirs.”

The latest update follows an open letter Google published in August in which it warned the code would ‘hurt’ the way consumers used the Search and YouTube functions of its business.


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