Australia: Tech giants threaten to halt services if forced to pay fair share for news

Tech giants Google and Facebook have threatened to stop offering their services in Australia if a new code, that will force them to pay a fair share for the news content they currently use for free, goes ahead. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA) deplore the attempted blackmail by the companies and calls on the Australian government not to be influenced by threats.

Google threatened on January 22, 2021 to block Australian users from accessing its search service unless the government changed proposed legislation to make the internet giant pay news outlets for their content. Credits: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) code would require tech giants to pay news media for sharing their content. Under the proposal, digital companies like Google and Facebook would have three months to negotiate an agreement with the media. After that period, an independent body would impose a deal.

In an unprecedented but not surprising move, Google announced on Friday 22 January that it will not continue operating in Australia if the government continues with its plans to make them pay a fair share to media for using their content. Google already started blocking some Australian news sites from search users as an "experiment" in a move to showcase its monopoly power.

In September 2020, Facebook also threatened to ban users from sharing news on its platform if they were forced to pay for it.

The legislation, which was introduced into the House of Representatives in December, comes amid a push by global governments to regulate the power of digital monopolies.

Since it was released in July 2020, Google and Facebook have made endless efforts to avoid the precedent the code would set worldwide to force them to pay for news in search results.

A critical code to save Australian journalism

The crisis unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously affected Australian media and journalists, where hundreds of local and regional media have shut down because of a collapse in advertising revenues.

According to the IFJ’s affiliate MEAA, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the media economy, causing the suspension or permanent closure of more than 100 newspapers.

This situation reveals how critical it is to find a solution for the survival of Australian journalism. While supporting steps to make the tech giants pay, the IFJ and MEAA have argued the new code must be oriented to help all media, including small local and regional media, and not just big media corporations.

Marcus Strom, President of MEAA Media, said: “For Facebook and Google to threaten to withdraw from the Australian market shows that they are more concerned with their monopoly profits protection racket than abiding by the democratic laws of sovereign nations. Civil society should determine how technology and information distribution operates, not the profit motives of global corporations.”

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “Google's and Facebook's attempted blackmail is deplorable and show how desperate they are to keep profiteering from journalists’ work all over the world. The Australian government must show determination to fix the imbalances between local media and tech giants and ignore these threats. Other governments must urgently to take steps to ensure the tech giants pay for content and are subject to fair taxation systems which can raise revenues to support independent journalism”.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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