Government gives green light to media agency inquiry in response to ACCC’s Digital Platforms Report

The Morrison government, led by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, has approved an inquiry into advertising and media agencies, and will commit $27m over four years to a digital platforms branch – to sit within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – which will carry out such inquiries.

The inquiry into the “black box” process of buying and selling ad space is one of the most notable recommendations supported by the government in its long-awaited response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry. The resulting 623-page report, released by the ACCC in July, made 23 recommendations, the majority of which the government supports or supports in principle.

The ACCC Digital Platform Final Report was handed down in July

The role of the to-be-established digital platforms branch will be to: monitor and biannually report on digital platforms, take enforcement action as necessary, and conduct inquiries as directed by the Treasurer.

The response said that “the first of those inquiries will be focused on competition for the supply of ad tech services and the supply of online advertising by advertising and media agencies” suggesting that there are more inquiries to come. The ACCC added that the inquiry into media agencies will particularly focus on digital display ads.

The government – fronted by Frydenberg, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Attorney-General Christian Porter – noted that it “agrees that the digital platforms need to do more to improve the transparency of their operations”.

The government’s plan to implement the supported recommendations (click to enlarge)

It also committed to ensuring there is “continued vigilance in digital platforms markets by funding the ACCC”. The ACCC welcomed the “comprehensive” response.

“We are delighted that the Government has recognised the significance of the ACCC’s findings on the impact of the leading digital platforms on competition, consumer, privacy, media and advertising markets,” the ACCC’s chair Rod Sims said.

“We’re proud that Australia will now be one of the first countries in the world to develop such a comprehensive roadmap for broad reforms relating to digital platforms.

“Google and Facebook have grown to have almost unfettered market power with significant impacts on consumers that must be addressed.”

Facebook, meanwhile, emphasised that digital platforms offer choice and opportunities to Australians and new audiences to media owners and advertisers.

“We share the Government’s view that now is an opportune time for democratic countries like Australia to work with industry on new regulation for the internet that protects the choice and opportunities for millions of Australians that use our services,” Facebook’s regional managing director, William Easton, said following the government’s response.

“We support a sustainable news ecosystem which is why we work with publishers to help them reach new audiences and invest significantly in tools to provide transparency over the content people and publishers see on our services. Our primary focus remains on achieving economy-wide privacy protection, data portability and a user-focused digital news distribution code, while preserving the many benefits that technology delivers in this country.”

A Google spokesperson said it would continue to engage with both the ACCC and government on the future of the investigations.

“Australians come to Google for helpful products and services, whether it’s finding answers to questions, getting directions through maps, or businesses connecting with new audiences through advertising,” the spokesperson said.

“We have engaged closely with the ACCC and the Government throughout this comprehensive process and will continue to do so in 2020, including on focus areas such as privacy, ad tech and our work with publishers.”

In addition to the media agency inquiry, the Coalition highlighted it will facilitate the development of a voluntary code of conduct, reform media regulation to cover both online and offline companies, increase penalties for breaches of the Privacy Act, conduct a review of the legislation, and introduce a binding online privacy code.

It wrote that the government is “committed to maintaining the health and vibrancy” of the ABC and SBS and supported the recommendation that the public broadcasters receive “stable and adequate funding”.

The government chose not to support a mandatory ACMA take-down code to assist copyright enforcement on digital platforms, noting “the concerns of both major copyright owners and users of the potential unintended effects of a code”. The recommendation for the tax system to be reformed to encourage philanthropic support for journalism was also not supported, due to a focus on implementing reforms announced in 2017. Those reforms aim to “simplify administrative processes and increase transparency”.

The Morrison government received 100 submissions over the 12-week consultation period following the release of the ACCC’s report.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.