Australia to debate bill to make Google and Facebook pay for news

Close up of phone screen showing Facebook and Google apps among others
Many people get their news from Facebook and Google which don’t pay publishers fair rates, Australia says

Australia is to introduce a bill into parliament that would force Facebook and Google to pay news outlets for featuring their journalism, the Australian government said the “world-first” laws would mandate a process for news outlets to negotiate “fair” payments for their work.

Currently a power imbalance favours the big tech firms, the government said, the tech giants have vehemently opposed the laws, which they say will damage reader access. Facebook recently threatened to stop Australian users from sharing news stories on the platform if the law went ahead, Google has said it’s search services would be “dramatically worse” under the change. It has rolled out an extensive advertising campaign in Australia, arguing the laws would be damaging. As more readers have moved online in recent years, tech giants have faced calls internationally to pay more for news stories hosted on their platforms. “This is a huge reform and the world is watching what happens here in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday, he said a strong and diverse media industry was “vital to our democracy”.

The bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives on Wednesday but is unlikely to be passed until the new year, local media reported. Australian print media has seen a 75% decline in advertising revenue since 2005, the government said, several Australian news outlets have shut down or cut jobs this year. It essentially mandates a separate bargaining process that news outlets can fall back on if their own payment negotiations with Google and Facebook are not going well. That code would force a resolution through “final offer arbitration” – where if after months of no deal being made, each party (for a example a newspaper and Facebook) would present their offer to independent judges to make a decision. If the tech giants fail to comply, they face penalties of up to A$10m (£5.5m; $7.4), 10% of their Australian turnover, or triple the benefit they received.

Since the draft code was released in July, the government said it had undertaken consultations – including “constructive” discussions with the tech giants, the bill includes Australia’s two public broadcasters ABC and SBS, and requirements for Google and Facebook to share user data of news stories with their publishers. Concessions made by the government since July include dropping Instagram and Google News from the list of affected platforms, and halving a 28-day notice period for platforms to alert news outlets of algorithm changes.

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