Australia wants social media platforms like Facebook and Google to pay publishers for accessing their news content. The government has proposed legislation on the issue, and it gained widespread support from all political parties.
Introduced last December, the bill was thoroughly scrutinized by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. Google and Facebook account for 81 percent of Australia’s online advertising. They argued that the law was unworkable, which senators rejected. However, they did concede that proposed legislation carried some risks and must be reviewed after one year. The bill is expected to be voted in the parliament soon.
Google threatened that it would block its search engine in Australia
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he does not respond to threats. He emphasized that the Australian government has the right to propose rules with which businesses must comply. Facebook retaliated by restricting Australian users from sharing content on its platform.
The restriction has been extended to the Facebook pages of entities like the Bureau of Meteorology, WA Fire and Emergency Services, and ACT Health. The platform has attracted widespread criticism for its actions.
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AAP journalist Benita Kolovos tweeted:
“Totally cool and normal during the middle of a pandemic and the bushfire season that Facebook is limiting Australian’s access to news… The pages of governments, MPs, health departments, the Bureau of Meteorology, numerous women’s shelters, and even TV programs and radio stations are affected. Like I said, totally cool and normal of them.”
A government spokesperson from Queensland said that they would investigate Facebook’s actions. While Facebook seems to have taken an antagonistic stance against the legislation, Google has softened on the issue considerably.
The search giant recently announced that it had signed publishing contracts with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Seven West Media. Australian Broadcasting Corp. is currently in negotiations, while Nine Entertainment is close to a deal.
News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson thanked the government for standing up for the country’s journalism. If Google and Facebook fail to reach deals with media outlets, the government’s arbitration panel will set a binding price for the content.
Seven West Media is estimated to receive $30.6 million to $53.6 million from Google, while Nine Entertainment’s deal with the tech giant is worth $23 million.
Microsoft is urging the Biden administration to pass the Australian media payment law in the United States. In a blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that his company would support such laws in Canada, the EU, and other nations.
“Unlike Google, if we can grow, we are prepared to sign up for the new law’s obligations, including sharing revenue as proposed with news organizations… Our endorsement of Australia’s approach has had an immediate impact. Within 24 hours, Google was on the phone with the Prime Minister, saying they didn’t really want to leave the country after all. And the link on Google’s search page with its threat to leave? It disappeared overnight,” Smith said in the blog post.
Google criticized Microsoft’s support of the Australian bill, saying that Microsoft’s stance is for self-serving aims to boost the market share of its search engine Bing. Google dominates Australia’s search engine market with a share of 94.45 percent. In contrast, Bing only has a market share of 3.62 percent.