Amendments knocked back as 'gutless' Labor sides on code

Feb 24, 2021 at 06:59 pm by Staff

Australia's mandatory bargaining code has passed through both parliamentary houses and is expected to get its final nod today.

Meanwhile, with Sarah Hanson-Young's inquiry into media diversity on hold for its passage, the Greens senator was kept busy holding the government to account on changes to the legislation.

A last-minute government amendment which "clarifies" deals, differentiation and designation in the code - and facilitates Facebook's return - held it up for much of Wednesday. Hanson-Young said that having not only accommodated their "best buddies" at Facebook and Google, the government was also delivering "for their mates in the Murdoch press" and had buckled against the digital platforms.

"That's why this (amendment) is in here, and why Labor is gutless in taking this on," she said. The government had "blinked", weakening the power of the minister because Facebook had "bullied" it, and making concessions to platforms that make an unspecified 'significant contribution' to news in Australia.

There's also a suggestion - and the assurances of digital economy minister Jane Hume to the contrary were not very convincing - that the amendment provides government with the opportunity to supplement and perhaps supplant, industry regulatory bodies such as the Press Council with one of its own.

Another Greens amendment - urging that revenue from the code is spent on journalism in Australia - "in newsrooms instead of boardrooms," especially those with overseas connections - also failed, having been opposed by Labour's Louise Pratt.

As did an amendment by independent senator Rex Patrick that the ACCC be required to use its powers to audit the algorithms in use.

As a demonstration of democracy at work, it wasn't encouraging, and leaves little hope for the media diversity inquiry Hanson-Young goes back to, given that the government has already decided that no royal commission will be held on the subject. While emphasising the need for it at the same time.

The bill's progress has had a mixed reception globally, US journalism lecturer Jeff Jarvis claiming that, "in every attempt to take power away from the platforms, it only gives them more."

A journalism professor at City University of New York, he said funds from global deals would not go to journalists. "It will not improve news. It will go to the rapacious owners and hedge funds that control news companies," he said.

Jarvis' assertion that Rupert Murdoch and other large publishers would be the biggest winner, while smaller titles and new media startups would suffer most, was refuted by ACCC chair Rod Sims, who said this morning that deals with smaller publishers would take time.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young yesterday - 'government delivering for their mates in the Murdoch press'


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