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We dealt with Facebook, Google via market power, not copyright: Rod Sims

Australia made Google and Facebook pay for news. As the first country in the world to have shaped a code empowering news media companies to negotiate with search and social media platforms, it set the template for other countries. Next up is a look at online advertising, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Rod Sims, which saw the news media bargaining code through, told TOI.

“The point of the code was not arbitration but to allow for proper commercial negotiations,” Sims said. “It is very difficult to have a negotiation with a monopoly… Google has 95% of the search in Australia. Facebook dominates social media with 17 million Australian users… Europeans dealt with this issue via copyright and we via market power (challenging the monopoly they had). I think our way is the better way.”

ACCC had launched an inquiry in 2018 that led to the media bargaining code. “That 18-month inquiry looked at market power, digital platforms, consumer issues, advertising issues and media issues,” Sims said. “We had 23 recommendations and one of them was for the news media bargaining code.”

The code focuses on three things — payment for content, notice for significant algorithm changes and transparency on what data platforms are willing to make available to news media businesses.

“The code is working. Three of the four main media businesses in Australia have reached agreements. Discussions are on with two others (one of which is a conglomerate of 180 regional news media houses),” Sims said. “The bargaining power is not just restricted to Google search and Facebook social media now.”

Initially, the commission had made an attempt at dissolving the monopoly by proposing a voluntary code. But it didn’t work and they decided to make it a mandatory code, which was drafted and released to the public in July 2020. And then came the pushback.

“Google publicly threatened to pull all search from Australia. In the end, they didn’t. Facebook took news and emergency health information off its news feed on February 18 for nearly a week.” But on February 25 this year, the Australian Parliament passed the news media bargaining code into law and news on Facebook, too, was reinstated after the government agreed to changes in the code. “We did not change the core, just allowed more time for the process … The underlying key features of the code remain unaffected,” said Sims.

A year in, the code will be reviewed. “A one-year review by the treasury is built into the code. We will see what lessons need to be learnt. It is working as intended at the moment,” Sims said.

The commission is now looking at another aspect of online monopoly — advertising. “One of the 23 recommendations (after the 18-month inquiry) was holding a digital advertising services inquiry. We were asked to take a detailed look at advertising technology,” Sims said. “We are looking at it in a comprehensive way.” The inquiry is still in its early stages. ToI

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