Is no news good news? Has Facebook flipped? What’s making Google grovel?
I am not a journalist, but I do employ journalists to produce content for my clients and have made it my fact-checking mission to uncover some media bargaining code home truths.
If you heard about Facebook’s removal of Australian news media content on Thursday 17th of February 2021, and; were not affected (i.e. your Facebook page content is still intact), and, don’t care why this is happening. Then, great, there’s no need to read any further.
Quite frankly, I don’t blame you; because for the layperson, it’s not as big a deal as many will have you believe. To me, it feels like the ACCC is shaking the media tree to see if some money is going to fall out.
From what I can ascertain, the proposed legislation is about whether or not Facebook and Google can make a commercial deal with the news media sites for their content. There is also a little discrepancy around breaking the way the internet works and sharing algorithm code updates ahead of time but read on to find out what’s actually going on.
The ACCC enquiry has been going on for some time and I reported on it more than a year ago in Should we fear Facebook and Google? The ACCC thinks so.
Click below to watch my video.
Why has my Facebook Page content disappeared?
If the banner and content on your Facebook page is now missing, and you are not in the business of news media, here’s what to do;
1. Ask Facebook support to reinstate your page content.
2. Refrain from posting or sharing news media content across Facebook.
3. Use paid advertising to get your message in front of prospects (which, honestly, is the only way to reach a decent amount of prospects and generate leads digitally anyway).
It’s only organic news media posts that are affected, not paid posts/advertising unrelated to news media. And, if you are running ads on Facebook through REA or Domain (or some other property portal) whose page content is down, don’t worry – their ads are still running.
If you’re keen to find out what is really happening and believe in going to the primary source to find out the truth (but don’t have much time), fear not, I have researched and summarised the facts below.
Noteworthy Facts about the bargaining code
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has written to the Australian Senate to raise concerns that Australia’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code could fundamentally break the internet as we know it.
Tim Berners-Lee wrote;
“Before search engines were effective on the web, following links from one page to another was the only way of finding material.
“Search engines make that process far more effective, but they can only do so by using the link structure of the web as their principal input. So links are fundamental to the web.
“As I understand it, the proposed code seeks to require selected digital platforms to have to negotiate and possibly pay to make links to news content from a particular group of news providers. Requiring a charge for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web content.
“To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content. The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates, how it has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come.”
The proposed bargaining code sets out to provide arbitration if Australian news media organisations and digital platforms can not agree on commercial/financial terms. It also asks digital platforms to give news media organisations notice of algorithmic changes prior to them going live. No other industry, business or consumer would receive this privilege.
Google and Facebook will be the only digital platforms affected by the legislation. They are individually named. Other companies that allow us to search and find news media such as Apple, Microsoft and Twitter are currently not included.
Non-government funded Australian news media organisations will be able to seek ACCC arbitration to help them agree on commercial/financial remuneration from Google and Facebook. The ABC and SBS (news media organisations that we as taxpayers fund) are excluded from receiving any financial payments from Google or Facebook. The ABC and SBS are only included in the code to receive algorithmic information.
Nearly all major Australian newspapers are either owned by News Corp Australia (formerly News Limited) or Nine Entertainment Co (formerly Fairfax Media), founded by the Murdoch and Packer families. Then there’s the Seven Group which brings the Stokes family into the mix.
Facebook and Google have been developing news media products that will pay publishers and journalists for their content. Negotiations started in 2019. Apple pipped them to the post with its News Media product in March 2019. Google launched its News Media product called Newstand in February 2021, literally days ago.
In recent weeks/days, the three big news media organisations have successfully agreed to financial terms with Google, which will see each organisation receiving a reported $30 million per annum each. The threat of arbitration may have paid off for news media organisations, after all!
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) who has been been a key advisor in the process of developing the code has raised its concerns that the key benefit to be drawn from Code-related agreements, which is the reliable provision of journalistic content, has been lost in the final amendments and that “these funds should not be permitted to wash through an organisation and used for non-journalistic purposes.”
Facebook has taken a different approach and chosen to remove (or more likely hide for now) all Australian news media content from its social media so that it does not contravene the impending legislation. Facebook has shared that news media posts make up only 4% of the content on their platform and they do not fetch that information, the news media organisations upload it to the platform themselves.
We now sit and wait to find out if the new legislation for Mandatory Bargaining Code for News Media and Digital Platforms becomes law and, if so, how search engine Google and social media platform Facebook will react.
As mentioned at the start, to me, it does feel a little like the ACCC is shaking the media tree to see if they can get some more money to fall out.
Following are the organisations and websites that I have used to gather the facts.
DRAFT LEGISLATION & SUBMISSIONS
ACCC’s draft legislation – Mandatory Bargaining Code for News Media and Digital Platforms
Parliament of Australia – Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021.
Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACCC) – Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report
Submission by Tim Berners-Lee (who invented the world wide web in 1989) to the Australian Senate, about the proposed code.
Media Code of Ethics’ submission regarding the bargaining code of conduct.
Facebook’s News Products – which pays publishers & journalists
Google’s Newstand Product – which pays publishers & journalists
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