Daily Management Review

Amendments To New Content Law Expected To Be Approved By Australian Lawmakers


Even though there is expected to be some opposition from some minor political parties, it is widely expected that the amendments to the landmark legislation for forcing Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay media companies for news content will be approved by Australian lawmakers.
Following the action taken by the social media company Facebook last week of blocking Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its platform to protest against the new content laws, the amendments were introduced by the Australian government to the so-called Media Bargaining Code.
The amendments were started to be discussed at Australia’s Senate on Wednesday. Even though the ruling conservative Liberal Party lacks a clear majority in the upper house, the amendment is expected to get passed with support from the opposition Labor Party.
“What we’ve sworn to do is create a level playing field,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Wednesday. “We’ve sought to sustain public interest journalism in this country, and we’ve also sought to enhance and encourage those commercial deals between the parties,” he added.
Since it had reached a compromise with the Australian government, Australian users’ access to news on its platform would be restored by it, Facebook said on Tuesday.
One of the major changes to the new law includes the discretion given to Frydenberg  for him to decide on the issue of whether the code should be applied to either Facebook or Google if the tech giants make a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry.” Under the original draft of the law, both the tech companies had to submit to forced arbitration if they were unable to strike a commercial deal with Australian news companies for sharing of their news content which effectively gave the price setting right to the government.
There are however some concerns among some politicians and media companies that the amendments will give the opportunity to Frydenberg to exempt Facebook or Google from the new laws even if the two companies do not arrive at any commercial deal with all the media companies which was considered to be detrimental for the smaller publishers.
“This changes the bill significantly,” independent senator Rex Patrick, who plans to vote against the amended bill, said. “The big players could successfully negotiate with Facebook or Google. The minister then doesn’t designate them, and all the little players miss out.”
The amendments appeared to favour big media groups, said Lee O’Connor, owner and editor of the regional newspaper The Coonamble Times. “It’s the vagueness of the language that’s the main concern, and the minister’s discretion is part of that,” O’Connor said.
Time will be given to Facebook and Google to ink commercial agreements with Australian media companies prior to deciding on whether the new mediation and arbitration rules are to be implied on the companies, Frydenberg has said.
The aim of designing the code by the Australian government and the country’s regulator was to tackle the imbalance of power between the social media giants and publishers at the time of negotiating for payments for news content displayed on the sites and online platforms of the tech companies.