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Republished with permission from APC member organisation EngageMedia.

In early 2021, the Australian government enacted the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which requires Facebook and Google to pay Australian media for their news content. On the one hand, the law can be seen as a triumph for journalism, an industry that for so long has bemoaned the loss of content and advertising revenue to Big Tech platforms. But on the other hand, critics have expressed concern over its implementation, and whether smaller news organisations and the public will really benefit in the long run.

To better understand the Code, EngageMedia and Reset Australia Executive Director Chris Cooper have a nuanced discussion on how the Code affects different sectors of society –  and what precedents it will set in the Asia-Pacific region, where governments are increasingly passing more authoritarian laws that regulate content on online platforms.

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  • Reset Australia’s statement on the Code, prior to its passing: “The intention to redistribute revenue from monopolists is right and important. But the underlying imperative to do so is not to rescue the publishing industry from competitive threat. The reason we do this is to protect a fundamental democractic principle, the public right to a free and accessible press. It is through this lens that we must evaluate this Code to ensure its broader impacts serve its primary beneficiary – the Australian people”. 

  • For more information on the News Media Bargaining Code, here are some recommended articles and threads to use as reference:

  • According to Chris, the three main parties affected by the Code – publishers, Big Tech, and the Australian public – have been affected by the Code in different ways.

    • News publishers are the clear winners in the immediate future, as it is a solution towards journalism’s long-standing issue of being unable to profit off their content on social media platforms. The Code, however, has been criticised for being a win only for bigger media conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The Code’s success will also be measured by the deals that smaller local publishers will be able to make, which have yet to be seen. 

    • Big Tech, on the other hand, can be seen as the “loser”, with their appeals against the Code receiving mixed reactions. Facebook was particularly criticised when it banned the content and pages of local media companies, nonprofit organisations, and charities. 

    • What this Code means for the public, however, remains uncertain. Chris points out that the Code does not dictate the amount that Google and Facebook should pay publishers, nor does it specify for what exactly the payments to publishers should be used. The public “wins” if the payments will be used to further fund public interest journalism, but only time will tell if that will be the case.  

  • As additional context, it’s also important to note the complex relationship between news publishers and tech platforms. While publishers have been critical of Big Tech’s control of advertising revenue, Big Tech has also funded various initiatives meant to further journalism, such as the Google News Initiative and the Facebook Journalism Project

  • What does the News Media Bargaining Code mean for the rest of the world? Canada is already considering adapting a version of it. But here in the Asia-Pacific, Chris says any application of a similar law would be different because of the region’s changing implementations and interpretations of democracy.

    • Instead, Chris likens the steps we in the region can take to the concrete actions we are currently doing to combat climate change. Global action and cooperation across governments and corporations will make the biggest impact, but small actions we can take as individuals are also needed, whether that is being more mindful of our own waste produced or calling on our governments to do more for the environment. 

  • We also asked Chris about his ideal solution to the problems the Code is trying to fix. Here are his suggestions:

    • Change the way we think about data. The more users are aware that they have rights to their own data, and that Big Tech should not be able to use it for free, the more that Big Tech will have to move away from the surveillance capitalism model of revenue.

    • Demand more transparency and accountability from Big Tech. There is also a need to come up with new regulatory frameworks and approaches more applicable to the Asia-Pacific region.