• Cheek

ScoMo and the Liberals must answer for the Facebook news ban

An article was published by Chris Dite for Jacobin on Saturday 20 February entitled The Australian Facebook News Ban Isn’t About Democracy — It’s a Battle Between Two Rival Monopolies. The piece can be well summarised by the following excerpt.

At its heart, the battle is not one between democracy and monopoly. Rather, it’s a battle over who gets to enjoy monopoly power.

The article asserts that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stand is about serving the interests of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, not saving democracy. At the core of the entire Facebook news ban issue are four giants: the federal government (run by a conservative coalition), Facebook, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and big media (ie. News Corp, ie. Murdoch).

Facebook's official stance is that the News Media Bargaining Code "penalises Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for," and the ACCC's (seconded by the federal government) is that the laws will redress “a fundamental bargaining-power imbalance between news media businesses and the major digital platforms.” The author disagrees with both stances, saying:

Neither position is genuine. There is no doubt Facebook is “asking for” Australian news content. It’s also making money from it, although it’s unclear exactly how much. Similarly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the driving force behind the new code, has a long track record of favoring fundamental power imbalances — but only when they serve its interests.

If you want to see a power imbalance, how about the number of news outlets Murdoch owns in Queensland, Australia, and the world? News Corp reports that it reaches 16 million Australians each month (keep in mind there are only 25 million of us). Nine Entertainment (the only conglomerate that comes close to News Corp in size) reports reaching 70% of Australians each month. It should also be noted that a previous News Corp executive Kim Williams has gone on the record to say:

News Corp has no influence with the public but an acute influence with politicians.

While we find it incredibly hard to believe that a media company (let alone one with the scope of News Corp) has no influence with the public (that's kind of the point), this statement speaks volumes about News Corp's relationship with the government.

The federal government want us to believe that Facebook is failing us. That we have a right to read the news on the social platform, and that news outlets have a right to post on it. They want us to believe that Facebook has escalated this threat without a second thought to us, it's users and so called 'customers'.

From the perspective of a small media company and social media user, I believe there's been a point of view missing from the reporting of the Facebook news ban, and the article on Jacobin has touched on more than one aspect of it. This is a power play. It's not about us as social media users or consumers of news. The government has already stated that Australians are 'collateral damage' in Facebook's ban, but what they failed to address is that we are also collateral damage in their push to implement the News Media Bargaining Code.

The reality is that the Code, the ban, and the issue as a whole has nothing to do with Australian citizens. It has to do with a battle between powers way above our heads. The difference between Facebook and the federal government is that Facebook is a business. A business that has a right to accept or reject users of its service. The government has a responsibility to advocate for our interests (government is supposed to reflect us and push for what we need, funnily enough).

This begs the question, do we need the News Media Bargaining Code, which will favour top media companies (small companies with a revenue of under $150 000 per year are excluded)? Or do we as citizens have the right to view a range of different outlets? Do we have the right to read news stories that challenge and hold to account the government (on both sides of politics)? That is one objective of the free press after all.

I usually steer away from leading readers directly to my point of view, and I prefer to provide the facts and viewpoints I've found so you can make up your own mind, but this time I'm not going to do that. So let me be crystal clear and state that this is my opinion, and my opinion only: The Liberal government, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and PM Scott Morrison have one objective, to give Murdoch and Nine a digital monopoly. Why? Because both media giants are both incredibly powerful and pro-conservative government.