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03 October 2019

Miller: Platforms Should Be Banned From Using Journalistic Content

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, has called for Google to be banned from using content produced by publishers, and the data generated from it, until they negotiate a fair price for their use with publishers.

In a 1,100 word piece for The Australian, Mr Miller said efforts by Google to present themselves as "friends of journalism" were nothing more than a smokescreen with the sole aim of "convincing lawmakers against curtailing their largely unregulated market dominance." 

In the article published on Monday, Mr Miller said that "no one has damaged journalism and Australians’ ability to receive trusted, reliable information more than the big tech platforms."

He added: "Their extraordinary profits are based on their unfair commercial exploitation of other people’s content — and powerful legislative changes are needed to correct this imbalance."

The Government in Australia is currently considering its response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's  Digital Platforms Inquiry report in which it made 23 recommendations designed to tackle the “many adverse effects” caused by the dominance of Google and Facebook.

Mr Miller said: "Platforms like Google should be banned from using content produced by publishers and the data generated from it until they negotiate a fair price for their use with publishers. News Corporation has made this point strongly in its submission to Treasury, which is currently considering the government’s response to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s digital platforms inquiry.

"The Government’s response to the ACCC’s recommendations comes as the impact of the tech titans’ behaviour is now very real. Without swift action, more jobs will be lost and more communities will lose valuable sources of information.

"This pain is particularly stark for independent publishers. Similarly, the platforms have sought to frustrate media companies building subscription services to fund their journalism, as alternatives to giving away content for free and being reliant primarily on advertising, so much of which has been diverted to the platforms themselves.

"Be warned. We are already seeing intense lobbying from the likes of Google to present themselves as friends of journalism, an industry where they’ve sucked the life out of so many publishers while profiting from their content.

"Don’t be fooled by their smokescreens: their sole aim is to convince lawmakers against curtailing their largely unregulated market dominance. It’s guaranteed that when governments threaten intervention, the platforms make hollow promises — ones that make publishers sceptical.

"On Friday in the Australian Financial Review, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai made all the usual promises of working with publishers before making it clear Google opposed any ACCC attempt for oversight of Google’s commercial dealings with media companies.

"Google simply wants to continue exploiting and profiting from publishers’ content for free and has little interest in compensating publishers fairly. 

Mr Miller said a specialist ACCC branch could enforce competition and consumer laws by monitoring how digital platforms’ algorithms rank and distribute news content and advertising to consumers, and act if they are anti-competitive.

Codes of conduct for digital platforms regulated by the ACCC should be established with ther Government legislating for minimum standards requiring the tech platforms are fair and transparent in negotiations with publishers, prohibit anti-competitive or discriminatory practices and stipulating real consequences for non-compliance.

The legislation would prohibit platforms using any publisher’s content and from collecting any data generated by use of that content unless all publishers, or the major ones, have negotiated and entered into agreements with them, he added. 

Mr Miller said News Corp supported an ACCC inquiry into the supply of ad tech services.  Another important challenge is infringement of copyright on digital platforms, particularly with live streaming of sport, he said. 

Mr Miller concluded: "These are critical issues. How the government responds to the ACCC’s recommendations will have a profound effect on our media: it is vital we get this right for all Australians."

Mr Miller's article follows the UK's Competition and Markets Authority’s announcement that will undertake a market study into the online platforms such as Google and Facebook. The NMA has welcomed the study announcement where the CMA would “consider the sources of any market power, the way they collect and use personal data, and whether competition in digital advertising is producing good outcomes for consumers.”