Mark Zuckerberg couldn't convince Aussie Treasurer to back down on new media code

Josh Frydenberg said he's not intimidated by Google's threats to pull Search from Australia, either.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has revealed that he spoke directly with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the Media Bargaining Code that is making its way to law down under, saying the social media chief didn't convince him to back down.

"Last week, the minister Paul Fletcher and I had a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook who reached out to talk about the code and the impact on Facebook," Frydenberg said, speaking on ABC's Insiders on Sunday.

"They do [take it seriously] ... it was a very constructive discussion. Mark Zuckerberg didn't convince me to back down."

See also: NZ Privacy Commissioner labels Facebook as 'morally bankrupt pathological liars'

Frydenberg in April last year directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and media companies.

Despite testimony to the contrary from both Facebook and Google, at the time, Frydenberg said ACCC intervention was required because the tech giants had not made progress on developing their own solution.

Facebook and Google have been engaged in a stoush with the ACCC since August over the code. 

According to Google, the code is "unfair", saying also it puts the "way Aussies' search at risk". Google believes it contains an unfair arbitration process that "ignores the real-world value Google provides to news publishers and opens up to enormous and unreasonable demands" and similarly Facebook takes issue with the code, having threatened to pull news completely from its Australian platform.

Google since upped the ante, last month threatening to pull its search engine from Australia.

"I don't dismiss those threats, but I'm not intimidated by them either," Frydenberg said Sunday.

"We're in detailed discussions with Google, with Facebook, with the other players across the industry because this is not been a short conversation that we've had with these companies over these issues, this is been the product of an 18 month inquiry, world leading inquiry, by the ACCC, and at every step of the way, these businesses have been consulted."

The Treasurer said the "goal posts" of Google's distaste for the code has seemingly shifted, having gone from focusing on algorithm change notifications, to value exchange, to final arbitration, to now pulling Search.

"Now we're told if we go ahead with this we're going to break the internet," he said. "What I do know is that media businesses should be paid for content and what I do know is the Morrison government, whether it's on this issue, whether it's on cyberbullying or terrorist content on the internet, we have been prepared to take on these digital giants."

In the event that Google leaves Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been in talks with Microsoft to help them save the day.

"The Prime Minister has spoken to the CEO and president of Microsoft, as you know they've got Microsoft Bing, which is another search engine -- they're watching this very closely and no doubt see opportunities here in Australia to expand too," he said.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Sunday said legislating the code has been "dragging on for a really long time".

"The government said that they would fix it last year, it's still clearly not fixed. There's a lot of uncertainty. We need the government to get on top of it," he said. "Our position has been consistent. We want the government to solve it in the interests of Australians and in the interests of getting this resolved. One of the reasons it's taken them so long is because they made a hash of it."


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