In April, the Australian government asked the country’s Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address what it called “bargaining power imbalances” between the country’s news media outlets and digital platforms such as Google and Facebook. The move has global ramifications and on 31 July, the Commission placed in the public domain a draft code for public consultation.
It said the “code would allow news media businesses to bargain individually or collectively with Google and Facebook over payment for the inclusion of news on their services” and added it had specified a set of minimum standards for providing advance notice of changes to algorithmic ranking and presentation of news; appropriately recognising original news content; and providing information about how and when Google and Facebook make available user data collected through users’ interactions with news content.
The Commission noted that the imbalance had resulted in news media organisations being coerced to accept less than favourable terms for inclusion of news on digital platforms. In a detailed Q & A published with the draft, the Commission said that to be eligible, a news media business must nominate one or more of its news sources that mainly produces ‘core news’.
The draft code defines ‘core news’ as journalism about publicly significant issues; journalism that engages citizens in public debate and informs democratic decision making; and journalism relating to community and local events.
It added: “Some examples are political reporting; court reporting and reporting on crime. Once a news media business is eligible to participate in the code, they would be able to negotiate with digital platforms over all news produced by their nominated news sources?not just the ‘core news’.”
In effect, the entire gamut of operations of a news media outlet are brought within the ambit of the code, and effectively put the brakes on digital platforms that have traditionally settled, almost unilaterally, the terms of their engagement with such outlets. Google has reacted with fury to the Code, warning Australians that the way they search for information and use YouTube is at risk.
The trilliondollar American company claimed the Code would put everything from user privacy to the viability of its free services at risk, and even hinted that it was aimed at helping “big” Australian media companies, a charge that drew sharp response from the government, which said that Google with a market capitalisation of US$1200 billion was seeking to build a false narrative about “big business” when the largest Australian media conglomerate ~ News Corporation ~ was a relative pygmy with a market cap of US $9 billion.
The Australian initiative follows a move by the European Union which, in April 2019, toughened copyright laws to force Google to pay for news snippets and Facebook to filter out protected content.
With countries around the world seeking to correct imbalances in the relationship between news media and digital giants, it is time the Government of India, especially Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, followed suit. That would be the most effective counter to recent criticism that the government has an unholy nexus with some of them.