Peter Coleman: Google v Australia - This is where it gets ugly

Jan 21, 2021 at 08:59 pm by Staff


This is where it gets ugly. The bit where bullying and market power takes over from reason and negotiation. Even mandatory negotiation.

In the Senate hearing this morning about Australia's proposed News Media Bargaining Code, Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said the search giant would have "no real choice" but to withdraw its Search product from this market.

The increasingly-familiar argument that the proposed code would "effectively break the way that search works" supported by a video Tweet from Silva likening a news search to one from someone looking for a coffee shop to visit.

It's nonsense. Her claim that "we don't show full news articles" is akin to saying Google doesn't deliver the first important couple of mouthfuls of a caffeine hit.

And it ignores an old-standing common law entitlement called copyright.

Just as social media giants such as Facebook have chosen to pretend that they aren't publishers. And of course, claim that they're too busy taking money to take editorial responsibility for what they publish.

Nobody's suggesting that Google shouldn't reap rewards for having come up with an idea that currently puts it in the way of billions in revenue, while media companies were slow to react and respond.

But this isn't a jungle: Governments have a right and duty to regulate and represent the interests of all their citizens, and use the powers at their disposal to do so. The proposed mandatory code is one such power, and its potential is indicated by the fuss Google and Facebook are making about it.

So if Google wants to "evaluate the technical and operational risk, and financial risk associated" with introduction of the code, good luck to them. They have never been the only search engine - only the biggest and pushiest - and the withdrawal of their product (for such it is) is something we'd quickly get over; a void others would fill.

We're proud that little Australia has so far, been up for this fight; willing to challenge the power of digital giants which have run out of control. But everyone else in an ordered society has to live with regulation, and their fair share.

Handouts from Google and Facebook - crumbs from the rich dudes' table - are less than we deserve, or have a right to.

• Interesting as today's hearing proceeded, to see apples compared with oranges. With an inquiry of her own to front, Sarah Hanson-Young probed ACCC chief Rod Sims on the dominant position News Corp holds in Australian media, probably much greater than either of them realise, but estimated by Sims at a factor of 100-times globally. Make of that, what you will.

What was enlightening was that Rod Sims' evidence was conditioned by the news sources he uses personally, and for which mostly, he (or taxpayers) pay. No differentiation between news from the ABC and from News Corp's mostly paywall-guarded sites; what Sims frequently called print online.

Interest elsewhere was on how the ABC would be investing proceeds from application of the mandatory code in regional and 'local' news (definition of the latter including metro areas). What's happened is that in many regional areas, News has forced news consumers to move from advertising-supported content to the paid-subscriber model it wants, except where new players have emerged to restore it.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Mel Silva in today's video


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