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June 1, 2022updated 07 Nov 2023 5:41am

Support for Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code grows as 24 publishing minnows secure Google deals

By William Turvill

A group of 24 small Australian publishers this week secured a content licensing deal with technology giant Google.

The deal, brokered by a billionaire’s charity on behalf of members of the Public Interest Publishers Alliance, was facilitated by Australia’s divisive News Media Bargaining Code.

Advocates of the legislation, and those hoping similar laws are adopted in other countries, say this week’s deal should challenge “baseless criticisms” of the code.

They say the agreement, under which titles like the Greek Herald and Australian Jewish News will become paid partners of Google News Showcase, is proof that the code is not just for the benefit of large news companies.

Critics of the legislation, which effectively forces Google and Meta/Facebook to pay for news, have frequently argued that it was designed to benefit large publishers like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

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Impact of Australia News Media Bargaining Code

The deal comes shortly after Rod Sims, the former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) who helped design the code, published a report highlighting the successes of the legislation.

Sims estimates that, as a result of the code, Google and Meta/Facebook have agreed to pay news companies more than AU$200m a year in licensing payments, covering more than 20% of editorial costs for publishers.

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Google’s latest deal, covering 24 small news outlets that formed a collective bargaining group through Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation, was signed on Monday. The group has not yet succeeded in securing a deal with Meta.

Sims and some publishers have called on the Australian government to “designate” Meta under the News Media Bargaining Code.

Currently, neither Google nor Meta have been “designated”, meaning they are not technically subject to the laws of the code. If “designated”, Meta would face the prospect of arbitration processes where licensing deals are not agreed.

The code wasn’t all about one company’

The Australian deal has attracted attention from US and Canada news industry associations, which are lobbying for their governments to introduce legislation similar to the News Media Bargaining Code.

“This new deal in Australia provides material revenues to small news publishers,” said Jason Kint, the chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association representing US digital publishers.

“According to a report from Rod Sims last month, approximately half of the deals that Google and Facebook have struck are with very small news publishers.”

Kint is the latest guest on Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast this week. In his interview, recorded before this week’s deal, Kint dismissed the idea that Australia’s code was primarily designed to benefit companies like News Corp.

“Importantly, across our membership of literally thousands of publisher brands and some 60 companies, they are one company, News Corp,” he said.

“So if there was new legislation that just helped one company, that’d be bad for the rest of the publishing sector…

“I don’t want to go into specific companies, but there are members of DCN that are at least ideologically positioned on the other end of news. And they are also super supportive of what was being put forward in Australia and the legislation.”

He added: “It’s something that I think the whole news industry recognises the value of, and it will support the whole news industry.”

Kint’s sentiment is echoed by David Chavern, chief executive of the News Media Alliance, which represents news publishers across the US.

Following the Minderoo deal, he told Press Gazette: “To my mind, all of the baseless criticisms have been put to rest and the bargaining code has proven to be a productive, pro-market model for news publishers to retain more of the value that they are putting into the information ecosystem. 

“The code wasn’t all about one company, there was no ‘link tax’ and no internets were broken in the implementation of the code. It is a good idea that should be implemented in many more places, including the United States.”

Paul Deegan, the chief executive of News Media Canada, said: “We are very encouraged by the news. These are smaller publications – the Greek Herald, the Australian Jewish News – and so I think it’s very encouraging that Google has negotiated meaningful commercial deals with those titles.”

Deegan added: “I think you’ve got to give a tip of the hat to Google. It looks like we’re now at a point where any eligible publisher has inked a content licensing agreement with Google, so that’s very encouraging. Facebook seems to have halted in Australia, which we see as being very unfortunate.”

Google deals ‘could make a world of difference’

The terms of this week’s Google deal have not been disclosed. As is common with News Showcase deals, partner publishers have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But three of the participating publishers told Press Gazette their deals would provide a significant financial boost.

“Suffice to say, it was a great outcome for all of us,” said Nelson Yap, editor and publisher of the Australian Property Journal.

Fiona Fox, the managing editor of Australian Rural and Regional News, said the Google deal “could make a world of difference” to her news organisation, which she founded in January last year. “It will make it easier for us to scale up.”

When these small publishers announced the formation of their collective bargaining group last November, several were critical of the News Media Bargaining Code.

At the time, Fox said in a statement that the “federal government appears to believe that once the major players were paid multi-millions of dollars by Facebook and Google that the job was done”.

Now, while she believes the tech giants should be “designated” to feel the full effect of the code, Fox says: “Google and Facebook still aren’t subject to the code, but I suppose the threat of the code may have played a role in forcing Google to the table. So the prospect of the code has achieved an outcome.”

Yap, of the Australian Property Journal, is pleased with his company’s Google deal. But he remains sceptical of the code. Like Fox, he believes Google and Meta should be “designated” for the benefit of other publishers.

“It was because of Minderoo, because of the involvement of Andrew Forrest, I believe that’s how we got a deal,” he said. “I don’t have much hope for the other smaller publications who were not part of our collective bargain. So I think designation is the way to even out the playing field.”

Lawrence Gibbons, publisher of the Star Observer and City Hub, believes the code is not perfect, and that Google and Meta should be “designated” in Australia and elsewhere.

He said: “If the code hadn’t been introduced, we wouldn’t have gotten anything. So I’m grateful that the code was introduced, I’m grateful that there were mechanisms under Australian law that allowed us as small publishers to navigate the system.

“But if other national jurisdictions were introducing similar legislation, I would hope they wouldn’t give their [governments] the option of not designating.”

Announcing the deal earlier this week, Emma McDonald, who led the negotiations for Frontier Technology, a division of the Minderoo Foundation, said: “We are delighted Google recognises the value these publishers deliver to their communities. This deal has been negotiated in good faith over the past six months, culminating in a landmark agreement for independent journalism.”

Shilpa Jhunjhunwala, Google’s head of news partnerships in Australia and New Zealand, said: “We are pleased to have worked with the Minderoo Foundation to identify a broad set of solutions for a diverse group of publishers, and I’d like to thank Emma and the Minderoo Foundation for their collaboration.

“These agreements will mean we have reached more than 60 individual commercial partnerships for News Showcase, representing more than 180 individual Australian media outlets.

“These offerings cover a range of content and digital transformation initiatives, tailored to the publication.”

Press Gazette is hosting the Future of Media Technology Conference. For more information, visit NSMG.live

Picture: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

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