One year later: Treasury to review Australia's news media bargaining code

Treasury will assess the extent to which the code has delivered on its policy promise of 'protecting public interest journalism'.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Australia's Treasury department has announced it will commence a review of the news media bargaining code. The review will assess the extent to which the code has delivered on its policy promise of "protecting public interest journalism", Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday.

The review comes just shy of a year after the news media bargaining code came into effect. The code, among other things, requires tech giants -- Google and Facebook in the first instance -- to bargain with news media businesses for remuneration to display news articles. Where an agreement between news media businesses and digital platforms cannot be reached, the code sets out an arbitration process to determine the remuneration payable by a digital platform.

So far, Google and Facebook have jointly entered into around 30 commercial agreements with news media businesses, Frydenberg said.

The treasurer noted, however, that some news organisations are still been unable to reach a commercial deal with digital platforms despite the code being in operation.

"The Morrison government notes that some news organisations, including smaller and independent publishers, have expressed concerns they have been unable to reach a commercial deal. We urge the digital platforms to continue negotiating in good faith to ensure that the review is able to consider the full extent of progress made under the Code," he said.

Along with assessing the code's performance so far, the review will also identify potential improvements to the code.

In light of the review, industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) said some of its member stations have not had fair compensation negotiations with digital platforms so far.

"We are continuing to seek commercial outcomes but if Google and Facebook are unwilling to negotiate fair compensation, then stronger actions and designation may be required," CRA CEO Joan Warner said.

"We remain concerned that the current status quo will leave smaller media organisations such as radio stations at a competitive disadvantage."

During the code's development, both Google and Facebook originally opposed the code as it previously contained a different legal process that allowed news media businesses to go to arbitration if a deal could not be made after three months of negotiation. That arbitration process was then replaced with the current one, where arbitration is the last resort for when commercial deals cannot be reached through mediation.

As part of the review, Treasury will consult with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Treasury will also consult news businesses, digital platforms, and other relevant stakeholders as part of the review, with the department to provide its findings in September.

The review's launch comes on the same day as the ACCC publicly releasing a discussion paper that proposes new regulation for digital platforms. These proposals include a new code of conduct that seeks to "prevent the worst abuses of dominance and protect consumers".

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