Facebook and Google must be forced to pay Australian media organisations for using their content so the industry can “survive,” according to an open letter issued by 10 major news firms today.
The warning, which comes just weeks before the Australian parliament is expected to debate the laws drafted by Australia’s competition watchdog, also hit back at widely publicised claims from Google that the laws would give media companies “special treatment,” and set out a list of conditions they considered necessary to prevent tech giants evading the new rules.
Facebook has already threatened to remove all news stories from being seen by millions of Australian users to avoid paying for news, while Google Australia vice-president Mel Silva said the company was willing “to help support the news industry” but only if big changes were made to the proposed laws.
In the open letter, signed by executives from organisations Nine, Seven West Media, The Guardian, News Corp, Channel 10 and Commercial Radio Australia, the groups said global tech firms were making money from content produced by Australian organisations but “the financial ledger in producing the content is currently very one-sided”.
“Australians can search for news on Google and share stories with their family and friends on Facebook and Instagram partly because of investment by local news media businesses in quality journalism,” it read.
“Google and Facebook generate significant revenues by collecting data on those users and turning it around in highly targeted advertising. This makes news content hugely valuable for the digital platforms. Yet Google and Facebook do not currently pay Australian media companies for this valuable content.
“To survive, local news media businesses must be able to negotiate a fair contribution to the cost of creating content that directly contributes to significant local profits made by Google and Facebook.”
The group also called for the Government to protect four elements of the news code, ensuring it would cover all digital services from the companies, that they would provide information required for fair negotiations, that it would include final offer arbitration to limit delays, and that the code should protect Australian organisations being discriminated against to avoid paying for news.
Free TV chief executive officer Bridget Fair said a news media code had first been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in July last year after its 18-month investigation into digital platforms.
She said there had been delays, and many closures of Australian news media organisations since that time, as well as prominent campaigns against the proposed code from Google and Facebook.
“Since (the draft law was released), there’s been a lot of misinformation about what’s in the code and how it might impact various players,” Ms Fair said.
“We thought since now is the time for final consideration as media organisations we should come together and make a strong statement about what the key elements of the code must contain to achieve its stated purpose.”
The open letter, which will be sent to all Australian members of parliament, also states that the proposed laws will not require the tech firms to “provide any additional user data to media companies” and will not “require special treatment for news media businesses” — a claim Google promoted to its YouTube video creators worldwide, saying they could “earn less” as a result.
In a blog post last week, Ms Silva said Google still had “serious concerns about the way the draft legislation is framed,” and wanted to see changes to financial negotiation and for the laws to put a price on web traffic Google sent to media organisations.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the code would be introduced to parliament before the end of the year.