Google wants publishers to decide if news is shown on its platform

Despite this restricting the information available to those googling, the search giant believes the media bargaining code should preserve a system where publishers are free to decide whether their content can be found in Google Search or Google News.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Google still isn't happy with Australia's pending media bargaining laws, telling the government once again that it finds the mandate, as currently drafted, unfair and unworkable.

The search giant has been engaged in a stoush with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) since August over the News Media Bargaining Code. Google previously labelled the code as "unfair", while also saying it puts the "way Aussies' search at risk", would result in a "dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube" experience down under, and "ignores the real-world value Google provides to news publishers and opens up to enormous and unreasonable demands".

This week, Google has said in a blog post that "the draft code's arbitration model looks only at one side of the exchange … this leaves news businesses free to make extreme claims without digital platforms being able to respond effectively, making an unfair outcome inevitable". 

"No business, in Australia or around the world, could accept this kind of extreme and unreasonable set-up."  

The code currently adopts a model based on negotiation, mediation, and arbitration, which is aimed at facilitating "genuine commercial bargaining between parties, allowing commercially negotiated outcomes suited to different business models used by Australian news media businesses".

The ACCC believes the code is necessary to address fundamental bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google.

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Google added that the code should preserve a system where publishers are free to decide whether their content can be found in Google Search or Google News, rather than imposing a system that forces Google to include snippets and links to news content and to pay for that information to appear in search results.  

"No other Code of Conduct in Australia forces one company to provide services to another company and pay them for the services they benefit from," it reiterated.

"But not only would this be unprecedented, it would also undermine the principle of a free and open internet, built on the availability of links, snippets in search results and the ability to link between websites without advance permission."

While Google has said it supports a code, it has been adamant the current iteration is one that doesn't consider its demands. The search giant wants a final version of the code that includes standard arbitration based on comparable transactions, "not the extreme and unusual 'baseball arbitration' model", as well as the inclusion of commercial agreements between Google and news businesses.

"As work on finalising the code continues, we'll keep making the case for an approach built not on unprecedented arrangements, but on a fair, workable code and mutually beneficial, commercial discussions between publishers and digital platforms," Google said.

"Australia's future as a strong digital economy depends on it."

Speaking at the National Press Club last month, ACCC chair Rod Sims said Google and Facebook clearly have market power and said it was "simply extraordinary how the digital platforms continue to reject that they have market power when everyone else sees it as obvious".

"Further, their 'take it or leave it' attitude to dealing with news media businesses is damaging journalism, which in my strong view is essential to our society," he said.

"And let's be clear, this is not a case of Schumpeterian creative destruction. The situation we are in is not akin to the car replacing the horse and buggy. The digital platforms do not produce news; rather they are vehicles for the dissemination of views and information which would be all the poorer, including for digital platforms, with a lack of content from professional journalists."

Sims said the media bargaining code is a great example of a tailored solution to a particular market power issue.


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