Google says news media code would ‘break’ how search engines operate

Google has released another statement on Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code ahead of its final review in front of a Senate Committee, doubling down on the code’s potential to change how free search engines and the open internet function, should it be enshrined into law.

Following last month’s claims that the proposed legislation still “falls far short of a workable code”, Google Australia and New Zealand managing director, Mel Silva, went into further detail about why the tech giant believes the code would “hurt the online services [Australians] use every day”.

Google ANZ managing director Mel Silva

In an open letter published on Google’s blog, Silva acknowledged that the original purpose of the code, “to aid the financial future of publishers”, is an important goal that Google supports, but that the manner in which the code goes about this is “deeply flawed”.

“If the code became law today, it would break the way Google Search works undermining the benefits of the internet for millions of Australians, from small business owners across the country, to literally anyone trying to find information online,” she wrote.

“…the code’s rules would dismantle a free and open service that’s been built to serve everyone, and replace it with one where links come at a price, and where the [Australian] Government would give a handful of news businesses an advantage over everybody else.

As a result, Google claims its business in Australia would be placed “at enormous risk,” she continued.

Silva reiterated Google’s plan to strike deals with publishers to pay them through its Google News Showcase program, which it plans to invest A$1.3 billion in globally over the next three years.

This program would see Google pay for the “editorial expertise” of news businesses and “beyond-the-paywall” access to journalism, rather than paying for links.

“We think News Showcase is the right solution for negotiating payments to publishers under the Code. It offers a fair, practical way forward, meets the original goals of the law, and helps secure a strong future for Australian news,” Silva said.

If it becomes law, the code will mean Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the power to make calls on whether a news business is eligible to bargain with Facebook and Google for payment for use of its content on their platforms.

If the bargaining process is unsuccessful after three months of attempts, the news company can take the platform to an arbitration process.

Both the publisher and platform will then submit a final remuneration offer, and a panel of arbiters making a final decision. However, publishers will only be able to take a platform to arbitration once every two years.

Silva insisted that Google’s objections are in the interest of “finding a way of supporting journalism without breaking Google Search”, and encouraged people to continue to make submissions about their videos on the code to the Senate Committee before 18 January.

“…we look forward to working with the Senate Committee, policymakers, and publishers to achieve an outcome that’s fair for everyone, in the interests of all Australians”.

After the Senate Committee gives its final review of the code, Parliament will then vote on whether it becomes law when it returns on 2 February.


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