Fri, 08 Mar 2024 - 10:49



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




8 MARCH 2024

MATT SHIRVINGTON: There's widespread concerns this morning over a decision by Facebook's parent company, meta, to stop paying for news content in Australia. Publishers were informed last week that meta wouldn't enter into a new deal when the current contract expires later this year.

NATALIE BARR: It sparked a fresh battle with the government with Facebook accused of breaching laws introduced by the Morrison government that forced platforms like Facebook and Google to pay up.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: For more, we're joined by Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, who was communications minister in the former government and spearheaded the news media bargaining code. Good morning to you. Well, what does Meta's decision mean? Not just for news outlets, but for readers and viewers as well?

PAUL FLETCHER: Good morning, Nat and Shirvo. Shows like yours cost money to employ journalists, camera people, all the crew to provide news and journalism that Australians rely on. That's why the Morrison government passed the news media bargaining code, because we wanted Facebook and Google to contribute to the cost. Facebook earns about $5 billion in advertising revenue in Australia. That worked for Facebook or Meta, its parent, entered into 11 deals, including with the Seven Network, Seven West media, but they've now said they don't want to renew the deals and that would mean less money to pay for journalists and pay for the important work of keeping Australians informed.

NATALIE BARR: So are they breaking the law?

PAUL FLETCHER: The law requires them to do, to sit down and negotiate, and the first thing that has to happen is for the government of the day, the treasurer, to what's called designate a digital platform. So that should be, I think, the next priority for the government. They need advice from the ACCC but they should be looking at whether they can designate meta. And if that happens, then a company like Seven West Media or other media companies can effectively require Meta, Facebook to sit down at the negotiating table with them.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: So, Paul, what's changed between now and the last deal being done? Because back then there was a lot of pressure on Meta particularly. It wasn't called Meta at the time, but on Facebook because the viewers wanted the content, they wanted to see it

PAUL FLETCHER: Australians want to see news and information about our country, what's happening in our country. And that is why the Morrison government passed the news media bargaining code. We managed to get Facebook and Google to the table. Other countries tried to do it and failed. In total, the deals that were done then have generated about $200 million for Australian news media businesses. That's meant more journalists being employed by Seven, your competitors, by the ABC across the whole sector. And that's been good news. Now, Meta is saying they don't want to do another deal. And so it will be important that the government is prepared to use the tools in the news media bargaining code. It was carefully legislated at the time. And so there are some next steps available to the government.

NATALIE BARR: Yes. So those next steps, can the government force them to the table? Can they be fined?

PAUL FLETCHER: That is effectively how the code is designed to work, to be able to force them to the table. Now, when this issue came up, when we were in government, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was heavily involved, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg heavily involved. I was heavily involved as communications minister. We need to see the current government leaning in on this. We need to see the treasurer involved and not just the assistant treasurer. They need to be looking at using that power to designate Meta or Facebook under the code and that would be the important next step. And that first requires advice from the ACCC. So they should be asking The ACCC for that advice. Uh, there's a lot of powers in this code, and this government should be making every effort to use them, because what depends on that and what will be affected by that is whether Australians can continue to get the news and information that we all need.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, at the end of the day, we want a fair deal. Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time