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ACCC Stands Up To Google And Facebook For Small Publishers

Google and Facebook may have played nice with Australia’s major publishers since the introduction of the news media bargaining code this year, but the tech monsters are facing the prospect of another ACCC crackdown.

Smaller independent news outlets are still being overlooked, with concerns raised over being unable to successfully negotiate payment for their articles.

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has separately written to Facebook and Google about the absence of commercial deals with several smaller outlets. He will represent the interests of those outlets to ensure the technology platforms pay for use of content.

“The tech giants have so much power and they’ve made public commitments,” Senator Bragg told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“It’s important that we see the colour of their money and I am very happy to represent the interests of small publishers. If big tech is serious about media diversity, then they will be making deals and paying for journalism from small Australian publishers.”

The federal government’s news media bargaining code was legislated this February to push Google and Facebook into commercial talks with large and small news media companies for use of their articles in the Google search engine and Facebook newsfeed.

Under these new laws, the companies can be slapped with financial penalties for failing to comply. But because of the concessions put in place to ensure Google and Facebook did not leave the market altogether, the laws are not currently “designated” (applicable) to the tech giants.

Google and Facebook have argued that there is no need for the legislative designation because they have signed letters of understanding with key publishers including Nine Entertainment Co, News Corp Australia and Seven West Media.

But smaller independent outlets are struggling with the absence of designation because they do not have the same resources and leverage as large news companies.

The code suggests two ways that news outlets can negotiate with Google and Facebook – through individual negotiations or a group negotiation (collective bargaining). The latter was intended as a way for publishers to band together and secure a large sum of money.

It’s said that the ACCC is considering the enforcement of collective bargaining negotiations.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims confirmed that one group of small publishers had applied to negotiate collectively after struggling to strike individual deals because the news media bargaining code did not apply to Google and Facebook.

“Many of the smaller organisations have gone for individual deals, which is a bit surprising,” said Sims.

“In terms of collective bargaining, they can apply to us. We do have one application and we are ready and willing to receive others.

“If Facebook and Google were designated, they would automatically have to collective bargain. But in absence of that, [publishers] can do what everybody else does and normal laws, which is to apply to get approval on a case-by-case basis for collective bargaining.

“The fact that there is no designation really shouldn’t be affecting anyone’s desire to collectively bargain and apply.”

Senator Bragg said he would try to assist those who are trying to negotiate individually. “The end of the Senate process isn’t an invitation to go into the shadows,” he said.

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