One year on: Treasury to review Australian media trading code

The Australian Treasury Department has announced that it will initiate a review of the news media trading code. The review will assess how well the code has delivered on its policy promise to “protect public interest journalism,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Monday.

The review comes just under a year after the news media trading code came into force. The code, among other things, requires tech giants – Google and Facebook in the first place – to negotiate with news media companies for compensation for posting news stories. When an agreement between news media companies and digital platforms cannot be reached, the code provides for an arbitration process to determine the remuneration payable by a digital platform.

So far, Google and Facebook have jointly entered into about 30 business deals with news media companies, Frydenberg said.

The treasurer, however, noted that some news agencies have still not managed to reach a commercial agreement with digital platforms despite the code in force.

“The Morrison government notes that some news organisations, including smaller and independent publishers, have expressed concern that they are unable to reach a commercial agreement. We urge digital platforms to continue to negotiate in good faith to ensure that the review can take into account the full measure of progress made under the Code,” he said.

In addition to evaluating the performance of the code so far, the review will also identify potential code improvements.

In light of the review, industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) said some of its member stations had so far failed to have fair compensation negotiations with digital platforms.

“We continue to pursue business results, but if Google and Facebook are unwilling to negotiate fair compensation, stronger stock and designation may be required,” said ARC CEO Joan Warner.

“We remain concerned that the current status quo will leave smaller media such as radio stations at a competitive disadvantage.”

During the development of the code, Google and Facebook initially opposed the code because it previously contained a different legal process that allowed news media companies to seek arbitration if an agreement could not be reached after three months of negotiation. This arbitration process was later replaced by the current process, where arbitration is the last resort when business agreements cannot be reached through mediation.

As part of the review, the Treasury will consult with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The Treasury will also consult with news organizations, digital platforms and other relevant stakeholders as part of the review, with the department due to deliver its findings in September.

The launch of the review comes on the same day as the ACCC’s public release of a discussion paper proposing new regulations for digital platforms. These proposals include a new code of conduct which aims to “prevent the worst abuses of dominant position and protect consumers”.

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