The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was implemented earlier this year in response to a call by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for tougher action by the government to reduce the power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms. it was done.
It was an arduous negotiation process, described as a three-way tug-of-war between the government, digital platforms and news media. The code has been strongly criticized by organizations including The Conversation and SBS – which have missed deals, even though they fall under the definition of news.
Another concern is for smaller and regional players who do not meet the $150,000 threshold for news business to qualify under the code.
Beginning in 2022, the Treasury Department will begin a review of the News Media and Digital Platforms Compulsory Bargaining Code legislation, to see whether it contributes to the sustainability of the Australian news industry by ensuring digital platforms.
How would they do that, given that the code is yet to be tested?
To date, no digital platform has been designated by the Treasurer under the Code. If treasurers are satisfied that Google and Facebook have made substantial contributions to the Australian news industry, they may never be.
Read more: Google and Facebook’s loud appeal to users over news media bargaining codes shows lack of political power
Many commercial content agreements between Facebook and/or Google and the news businesses have been concluded outside the law. This allows their content to be offered on the Google News Showcase and Facebook News tab. No comprehensive list is available, but company announcements and media coverage suggest The Guardian Australia, Junkie, News Corp Australia, Schwartz Media, The New Daily, ABC, Australian Community Media, The Conversation, Country Press Australia, Ten deals have been made with Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment Company, Times News Group, Crikey, and Solstice Media, and others.
These deals are business-of-confidence, so little is known about how much they are worth, how the money will be spent and how effective they will be in supporting news businesses.
On the one hand, many news organizations that have made deals with Facebook and/or Google have made announcements about hiring more journalists.
On the other hand, companies have announced cuts in print services and job cuts despite striking deals with the platforms. Due to the lack of transparency, it is unclear how commercial deals have influenced these business decisions. The long-term impact of these content agreements on the sustainability of the news industry is even more difficult to predict whether they will contribute to the diverse Australian news ecology.
Reviewing the code would be a huge task. To explore possible alternatives, the News and Media Research Center (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra held a Chatham House Rules Roundtable discussion with representatives from the news industry, platforms, government and the community.
Its purpose was to identify gaps in research to help inform media policy in the future. The bargaining code was one of the major topics discussed that day. Based on our interpretation of those discussions and our research expertise, we have come up with a list of indicators to monitor the impact of commercial content agreements on the sustainability of news businesses and the health of the broader news environment.
Different indicators are needed to reflect the different accountability of the three key actors involved: digital platforms, news businesses and government. Some of the indicators suggested below are viewable and can be measured externally. Others will require the cooperation of independent researchers.
Indicators to estimate the impact of voluntary content agreements on the news industry may include:
Changes in the number of journalists and other workforce
closure, contraction or expansion of news outlets
The size of the investment in cadets and staff training.
Other important measures would be to track the volume of public interest journalism content, as well as readership, subscriptions and subscription statistics. In the long term, enrollment in journalism courses and their graduate employment outcomes will also provide useful indicators of the health of the industry.
Read more: Why Google is now funneling into millions of media outlets, as Facebook pulls news for Australia
Evaluation of government performance may include an independent assessment of current and former government support programs for the news media industry, and if other countries adopt the code. As for Google and Facebook, they will need to satisfy the treasurer that the power imbalance has been corrected and enough has been done to help the Australian news media keep up.
It should be emphasized that the news media bargaining code was never intended as a silver bullet for fixing the ailing news industry. This was part of a wider suite of support for news media that the ACCC recommended.
These suggested indicators are by no means exhaustive, but they paint a picture of the complexity of the task. This will require collaboration and collaboration between government, industry and academia. After all, journalism is at stake here in the interest of the public.
A copy of the N&MRC’s Research Priority Report can be found here.