Not happy Jan: Google likens media bargaining code to using the Yellow Pages

Vint Cerf said it would be no more reasonable to try to return to an environment where publishers’ revenues were protected than it would be to expect Australians to go back to the Yellow Pages, Encyclopedia Britannica, or microfiche for their sources of information.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Google has continued its fight to stop Australia's draft Media Bargaining Code from moving ahead in its current form, saying the reason news businesses are making less revenue is not due to the existence of Google.

"It is because in a much more open and diverse digital market, news businesses began to face competition from websites that have taken classified advertising online, including Australian platforms like Seek and Domain," Google said in a blog post penned by Vint Cerf, who has the title of chief internet evangelist.

"These companies have contributed to the vast majority of the recent decline in newspaper revenues," Cerf said, pointing to research from AlphaBeta. "Google's impact has been completely different: Opening up an entirely new market, search advertising, helping small-to-medium businesses establish an online presence."

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 has so far 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".

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

Earlier this month, Google also said "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". 

Adding to that this week, Cerf said it would be no more reasonable to try to return to an environment where publishers' revenues were protected than it would be to expect Australians to go back to the Yellow Pages, Encyclopedia Britannica, or Microfiche for their sources of information. 

"The world has changed," the blog said. "Yet in advocating a code that serves their interests only, certain Australian news businesses are effectively arguing for the Australian government to turn back time -- to make the open internet significantly less open and its business models dramatically less diverse."

Reiterating its previous remarks, Google also said making the search giant pay for news content that is made available through Search results -- one of the key mechanisms behind the current code -- would not be reflective of how search engines work, or should work, nor how people use them. 

"The truth is that news content makes up a tiny proportion of the things people search for online (1%, in Australia). People's searches reflect the priorities in their lives. Even if Google disappeared overnight, Australians would still need to use the internet to find a job, car, restaurant, or plumber; to learn a language or get a red wine stain out of the carpet," Cerf continued.

The draft code, Google believes, would distort the open internet in other ways.

"Under a law forcing digital platforms to turn over information about algorithm changes, news businesses would gain access to privileged knowledge above every other business striving to compete for visibility and grow," Cerf wrote. 

"Not only that, by imposing an arbitration model that considers only publishers' costs and claims, it incorrectly supposes that news content always has a higher value to users than any other kind of online information or service.

"Raw data and human behaviour tell us this is a fallacy."

A group of Australian media companies, meanwhile, have joined forces to pen an open letter asking the government to push ahead with the code and make it final before the year is out.

"The global digital platforms should care about the local media landscape. They should care about ensuring the sustainability of the local news media sector," the group wrote in an open letter [PDF] signed by Commercial Radio Australia, Free TV Australia, The Guardian, Network 10, News Corp Australia, Nine, Prime Media Group, Seven West Media, Southern Cross Austereo, and WIN. 

The group said a fair and reasonable News Media Bargaining Code would need to include final offer arbitration, strong protection against discrimination. It added that the code must cover all services and the requirement that digital platforms be required to exchange all relevant information with news media businesses should also be included for a fair and balanced commercial negotiation.

"This is a critical moment in public policy development. It is too important to miss," the letter concluded.


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