As mentioned in my editorial yesterday, I do not claim to be an impartial commentator on the News Media Trading Code (NMBC) negotiations in Australia. I was chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) when it designed the NMBC and I was commissioned by the Australian government to implement it.
As Canada moves forward with its C-18 bill, the Online news lawyou can expect a strong reaction from Google and Meta.
Google publicly supported and campaigned for the NMBC to allow large companies to control the internet. This argument often caused astonishment, because the “big company” Google was thinking about was News Corp, which accounts for less than 1% of Google’s market cap. In addition, many consider Google itself to be the large corporation that controls the internet.
In a recent submission to the US Copyright Office, expressing concern that the NMBC might be replicated in the US, Google echoed, as follows, the arguments it often uses when lobbying in Australia:
“The ability to link freely is an essential feature of the free and open web. Changing this dynamic would not only have a negative impact on the resulting economic model, it would also force information to be consumed in a particular way, favoring a restricted range of sources for the dissemination of knowledge and, thus, undermining democratic discourse and media diversity. ”
Other arguments put forward by Google were, in the opinion of the ACCC and the government, misleading, but appeared to have some success. Google argued that this was an attempt by others to control what was seen on the internet. It seemed unlikely.
In January 2021, Google for the first time publicly stated that if the NMBC becomes law, Google will block access to search in Australia. This statement generated a lot of attention in Australia and around the world. The reactions are numerous. Most considered Google a tough guy and didn’t like the ruse at all. Microsoft then stepped in and said it would invest more so that its search engine Bing could replace Google, which then held 94% of the Australian search market. Eventually, a deal was reached with Google.
Unlike Google, Facebook did not engage in these issues throughout the process. Facebook continued to reject the very idea of NMBC. In an impressive move, and without notifying the government, in February 2021, Facebook removed all news and many other items from its website. In Australia, we woke up to find out what Facebook had done.
This decision didn’t pay off for Facebook. Not only has Facebook blocked all news on its platform, but it has also removed a lot of other information, such as information on how residents should react to a wildfire in their area and important health recommendations across a range of domains, which is still ongoing. more worrying as we were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the context of such a campaign, it is never reasonable to abuse power. The least we can say is that Facebook didn’t have a dead hand.
Once the law was passed, the platforms entered into serious business negotiations with the press companies. First Google, then, with some delay, Facebook. The agreements were complex and their negotiations took a long time. Some felt the platforms were not trading in good faith, but the ACCC’s ongoing contact with news organizations revealed the depth and frequency of the discussions.
Some claim that only big media companies were able to do business, which is simply not true. Country Press Australia represents approximately 180 publications and 60 owners; several are very small indeed and employ only a few journalists.
As president of the ACCC, I have repeatedly stated that NMBC’s business brings more than $200 million a year to media companies. I heard a Google representative say that my $200 million estimate was just speculation. This is not the case. I have been in contact with most of the heads of news organizations after they have concluded their agreements with the digital platforms and discussed with them the limits of the amounts paid. So I’m pretty sure it’s over $200 million.
The NMBC was a success on all levels. He almost entirely achieved his goal, and that, more quickly than initially expected. Few other government measures can say the same. The world is watching Canada right now, and I am available to share our experience with you.
Rod Sims is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. From 2011 to 2022, he was chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
This reflection is the second in a series of two.