Fri, 01 Mar 2024 - 16:44

News Media Bargaining Code

The announcement by Facebook’s parent company Meta that it does not intend to renew agreements made under the News Media Bargaining Code is a demonstration of its disregard for the laws of Australia.

It should not however be surprising to anyone who has observed Meta’s prior conduct – including of course its notorious action on 18 February 2021 to take off the air the Facebook pages of many Australian news media businesses. 

Meta took that step to try to force the then Liberal National Government into backing down from our stated policy intention of introducing the News Media Bargaining Code.

The rationale for the Code was to deal with a competition policy problem.  Because of its market power, Facebook was able to take content generated and paid for by Australian news media businesses – such as a two minute clip from National Nine News, or a story in the Herald Sun – to attract audiences, and to generate advertising revenue from those audiences, without paying for that content. 

Facebook’s attempt to make us back down did not succeed.  We legislated the Code in early 2021 and it had the desired effect.  Between February 2021 and February 2022 Meta entered into commercial deals with some 11 Australian news media businesses (and Google with 19.) According to independent estimates, some $200 million will flow to Australian news media businesses under deals entered into by Meta and Google. 

The News Media Bargaining Code was a successful policy intervention to support journalism and a diverse news media sector in Australia.  Many other countries had tried to stand up to Facebook, without success. 

As Communications Minister at the time, I worked with then Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and then Prime Minister Scott Morrison to achieve this outcome.

The re-emergence of this issue is a significant test for the Albanese Government.  The Morrison Government took care to design a Code which gives the Australian Government the necessary power to deal with this issue.  The proof of its effectiveness is in the substantial deals done once it was legislated.

It is now up to the current Government to use those powers.  For example, under the Code the Treasurer of the day has the power to ‘designate’ Meta – and once it is designated Meta can be required to participate in compulsory arbitration with registered news media businesses. 

It is troubling, though, that the Albanese Government appears to have been caught by surprise by this announcement – despite similar announcements in the UK, France and Germany in September last year.

I hope that the current Government will show the same resolve in staring down the digital platforms that the previous Government successfully showed.