Senate Committee's one recommendation is the News Media Bargaining Code be passed

Labor Senators, once again, set to wave through a piece of legislation with hopes the party's concerns will be addressed before its passage.

Despite hearing testimony from experts in the tech industry, such as the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, the Senate Economics Legislation Committee has given the green light to what is essentially a legacy media subsidy.

The committee, after probing the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 [Provisions], made one sole recommendation: The committee recommends that the Bill be passed.

The legislation mandating the Australian News Media Bargaining Code entered the House of Representatives in December.

The current form of the code, among other things, requires tech giants -- Google and Facebook in the first instance -- to bargain with news outlets for remuneration to display news articles.

According to the government, the code is necessary to address the fundamental bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms.

But 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.

Must read: If Bing is the answer then Australia is asking the wrong question

In true ALP fashion, Labor Senators recommend the Bill be passed, "subject to the government addressing key concerns as the government has 'signalled' it will".

The Australian Greens, however, support the principles of the Bill as an "important step forward both in protecting public interest journalism in Australia and regulating the power imbalance that big technology companies have in the marketplace".  

Without any clause written into Australia's code dictating that publishers must pass the money on to the actual creators of the content, and ignoring the layoffs that have plagued the industry in recent years, ACCC chair Rod Sims reckons the code will result in more journalists in Australia.

Speaking before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee last month, he said money gained by publishers through the process will cover a "substantive and meaningful" amount of journalism and therefore "make a significant contribution to journalism in Australia".

"I think it'll both stem some of the problems and allow extra journalists to be employed," he said. "I think it'll be a significant increase in journalism, compared to the alternative, with this code. And therefore, with more journalism, we'll get more diversity in media, which is good, and we'll get more coverage of more things which just can only help Australian society."

The Greens have asked such a directive be written into the code.

Another recommendation the Greens made was that the Bill be amended to require the 12-month review of the code to report on the impact that it is having on small, independent, and startup publications, as well as the state of journalism in Australia, including the number of journalists employed.

The Bill will now be considered by the Parliament from the week commencing 15 February 2021.  

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