Australia report says make Google and Facebook pay for news

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) — Australia’s Parliament will debate making Google and Facebook pay for news after a Senate committee yesterday recommended no changes to drafts of the world’s first such laws.

The Senate Economics Legislation Committee has been scrutinising the bill since it was introduced in Parliament last December.

The senators rejected Facebook and Google’s arguments that the so-called media bargaining code, which would force the digital giants to negotiate payment to Australian news media for the news content to which the platforms link, was unworkable.

“The committee agrees that public interest journalism is more than just an ordinary consumer product that has been undermined or ‘disrupted’ by new technology,” the committee’s report said.

“Rather, public interest journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and its survival is imperative in a society increasingly vulnerable to misleading information that can so easily be spread on the Internet,” the report said.

But the committee also recognised that the legislation carried risks and should be reviewed after a year.

A sign on a Google building at its campus in Mountain View, California. PHOTO: AP

“The committee accepts that there remains the possibility that not all risks have been taken into account, and that further refinement may be needed to the arbitration mechanism and other parts of the code so that they work in an optimum manner,” the report said. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his department would review the law a year after it took effect to “ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with the government’s policy intent”.

“The government expects all parties to continue to work constructively towards reaching commercial agreements in the spirit of collaboration and good faith encouraged by the code,” he added.

Parliament is scheduled to consider the bill on Tuesday. The conservative government hopes Parliament approves the legislation during the next two-week sitting.

The bill’s passage is guaranteed in the House of Representatives where the government holds a majority of seats. But the government does not hold a majority in the Senate.

Google continues to hold out hope for amendments. “We look forward to engaging with policymakers through the parliamentary process to address our concerns and achieve a code that works for everyone — publishers, digital platforms, and Australian businesses and users,” Google Director Lucinda Longcroft said in a statement.

Google has ramped up its campaign against the proposed law, telling the committee last month that the platform would likely make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the code were introduced.

Google has not responded to a request from The Associated Press for an explanation of how it would go about excluding Australia from its search function.

Facebook has threatened to prevent its users from sharing Australian news.

Former United States (US) President Donald Trump’s administration had also opposed the model and requested Australia suspend any plans to finalise the law.