‘We remain committed to a workable code’: Google responds to senators’ endorsement of bill

Google is determined to ensure lawmakers do not enact the News Media Bargaining Code in its current form, despite the senate economics legislation committee’s endorsement of the bill on Friday afternoon.

“As we’ve said since the draft was released in July last year, we remain committed to a workable code–-the concerns that we, and others, have been raising consistently are about specific aspects of the code,” said Google’s local director of government affairs and public policy, Lucinda Longcroft, in response to the senate committee’s report, which came after two days of hearings at which both the digital platforms and publishers presented.


“We’ve proposed reasonable amendments, including fair arbitration and that the code apply to News Showcase, which is already paying publishers and supporting journalism in Australia, the UK and around the world.

“We look forward to engaging with policymakers through the parliamentary process to address our concerns and achieve a code that works for everyone – publishers, digital platforms, and Australian businesses and users.”

The senators’ stamp of approval precedes a vote on the bill, which is set to take place as early as this week.

“The committee is confident that the bill will deliver on its intended outcomes,” the group of senators wrote in the report.

“Its provisions will provide the basis for a more equitable relationship between the media and Google/Facebook and, through this, help safeguard public interest journalism in Australia.

“Accordingly, the committee recommends that the bill be passed.”

Nine Entertainment Co commented that “now is the time for action and for the media code to be legislated”, and The Guardian Australia’s managing director, Dan Stinton, agreed.

“The media code is the result and an 18-month long digital platforms inquiry from the ACCC, extensive consultation with industry, and consideration of a large number of submissions and evidence to the Senate Committee,” Stinton said.

“The code is a deeply considered and effective means to correct the power imbalance that exists between publishers and platforms, and we urge the parliament to pass this world leading legislation as soon as possible.”

While Facebook and News Corp did not respond to a request for comment, Commercial Radio Australia’s Joan Warner also noted that the code “is for all news media including local radio”.

“This has been a long time in development with wide consultation and we applaud the ACCC for the way in which it has ensured all parties were consulted at every stage,” she said.

“After so much discussion and consultation, it is time to pass the legislation and, with the review in 12 months, implement the code and assess what the practical effect on all players will be over that time.”

Treasury will review the code after a year to ensure its outcomes and aims are consistent.

During the first of the two senate committee hearings, Google’s managing director, Mel Silva, said Google would have to remove it search function of Australia should the bill, as it stands, become law.

Google’s MD, Silva

But in written responses to the questions Google took on notice during the hearing – meaning it committed to answering them in writing later – Longcroft clarified: “The withdrawal of Search from Australia isn’t a threat; it’s a worst-case scenario that we’re working hard to avoid”.

The ACCC’s chair, Rod Sims, called the premonition “brinksmanship”, and the tactic appeared to soften when Google launched its News Showcase product recently, promising to pay participating publishers a monthly licensing fee to feature their content on panels, including stories which usually sit behind a paywall. However, Google can reportedly terminate the deals should the code remain in its current form.

If News Showcase sits under the code, and Google was satisfied it would no longer have to pay for links, the code would be workable, according to the search engine company.


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