Malcolm Turnbull fronts senate hearing to denounce News Corp

Round three of the public hearings into media diversity in Australia saw former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull front the senate committee along with Facebook and senior media executives from Prime, Private Media and WIN.

Giving evidence by video link, Turnbull told the senators of the Environment and Communications References Committee that News Corp had developed an unhealthy level of political influence in Australia.

“News Corp now is like a political party, but with just one member, or one family of members and that is an absolute threat to our democracy,” Turnbull told the senators.

Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull

“The power that you represent, your parliament, our parliament, has been used to shakedown two big tech platforms, Google and Facebook, to give money to media companies, the leading protagonist of which was News Corp,” he commented.

Turnbull has not made a formal submission to the inquiry. At a previous hearing fellow former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told senators that he was fearful of the fearful of the “Murdoch media beast”. Rudd initiated the senate inquiry after garnering 500,000 signatures in a petition calling for a Royal Commission into News Corp’s influence.

Meanwhile, Facebook, which recently signed a multi-million three year deal with News Corp as part of its upcoming Facebook News Product, was also back in front of the senate.

Similar to Google, Facebook had strongly opposed the News Media Bargaining Code, which was instigated by the government during Turnbull’s leadership. Earlier this year Facebook disabled news links within Australian user news feeds for a week, much to the dismay of many smaller publishers.

Chair of the senate committee, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, called Facebook’s actions “bullying”.

“You didn’t like it, so you pulled out of sharing news and other services in Australia, which you acknowledged was unprecedented… to give people knowledge of what your power is,” she said.

Facebook vice president of policy for APAC, Simon Milner, retaliated that Facebook’s actions were to limit “uncapped and unknowable liabilities” for the company and were not to “influence media diversity in Australia”.

“We did not expect what happened in the following few days, when the government said to us, ‘oh well let’s look in this and see if there is something we can do’,” he said.

Facebook has since signed deals or letters of intent with six media outlets in Australia, and said it planned to have the Facebook News Product live in the market before the end of the year.

Facebook director of policy, Australia, New Zealand & Pacific Islands, Mia Garlick, told the senators that smaller publishers had been unfairly impacted by the code and Facebook’s brief news removal.

“With respect to smaller publishers, that is an unfortunate feature of the law, is the impact on smaller publishers,” she said. “We are looking at an initiative where we could offer support for smaller, regional and public interest publishers.”

Mumbrella is currently in the process of engaging with Facebook and Google in regards to remuneration for news content. No commercial agreements have been raised at the time of publishing.


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