Australia to amend laws to make Google and Facebook pay

CANBERRA (AP) — Australia’s government said yesterday it will amend draft laws that would make Google and Facebook pay for news to clarify that publishers would be paid in lump sums rather than per click on news article links.

The legislative changes described in a government statement as “clarifications and technical amendments” follow Australian ministers’ weekend discussions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Executive Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Inc and its subsidiary Google.

The conservative government hopes to enact the so-called News Media Bargaining Code before the current session of Parliament ends on February 25.

The amendments to be introduced to Parliament today “improve the workability of the code while retaining its overall effect,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a joint statement.

The opposition centre-left Labor Party agreed at a meeting of lawmakers yesterday to support the bill, guaranteeing its passage through the Senate where the government does not hold a majority of seats. But the government might have to compromise with further Senate amendments.

Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology, a think-tank that supports the proposed world-first legislation, accepted the proposed changes.

“On face value, the amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact,” the centre’s director Peter Lewis said in a statement.

A Senate committee that scrutinised the draft legislation after it was introduced to Parliament on December 9 recommended last week that the code become law without changes.

Google and Facebook, which take a combined 81 per cent of online advertising in Australia, have condemned the bill as unworkable.

Google has threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the code were introduced. Facebook said it might block Australians from sharing news if the platform were forced to pay for news.