What the F is: The News Media Bargaining Code
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Google has been passive aggressively hinting at some legal changes in Australia, and I for one have been happily ignoring their pleas: “you might not be able to do this soon!” and “the point of search is that it’s unpaid!” Except for the half a dozen ads that come up at the top of the search results… But okay Google. Look, we’re just bitter that Google refuses to place ads on our website because we talk about vaginas and politics. Well that’s what we’ve assumed, they don’t ACTUALLY TELL YOU why you’re being rejected, oh no, that would be too easy. They just tell you to fix it and try again. Fix WHAT Google? But I digress, let’s get into this Google code (??) thing.
The code is extremely confusing, and our initial research into it took a long time. Nobody that we could find has published an explanation outlining the issues with the code and how it will affect you, the consumer. Any time an issue is this confusing and it's this hard to find a plainly-written explanation, you can pretty safely bet it's because the people in charge don't want you to understand it.
A quick summary
The ACCC and federal government are trying to introduce The News Media Bargaining Code
The Code will require Google to pay media companies to show their content in search results
The Code will negatively affect smaller media companies and independent creators
The News Media Bargaining Code
The News Media Bargaining Code, written by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), is the name of the proposed new law that the federal government is trying to implement. If passed, the law will require companies like Google to pay news media sites to show their content in search results. The code is only eligible and applicable to companies who make over $150 000 in yearly revenue. This means it will exclude smaller companies (ie. us) and many, many online content creators.
This is how Google explains it, with lots of slow talking and dramatic pauses to let you know how very terrible it is.
Many of us are wondering why the ACCC and federal government are pushing for this code. Aussie comedian and YouTuber Lewis Spears says it's because Australian mainstream media outlets don't understand how to create content for the digital age. This isn't a particularly new idea, and we at Cheek have spoken openly about the failings of mainstream media. In short, media giants in Australia refuse to adapt for the times and learn how to engage a younger audience, and that has resulted in their readership and viewership declining as people gravitate towards other sources.
Many Australian news media outlets, especially those owned by News Corp, took a huge hit in 2020, and what resulted was mass redundancies and more paywalls. When seeking news, especially in rural and regional Australia, you will be hit with more paywalls than free-to-access news media. We can deduce from this that these outlets are not getting enough subscriptions to make enough money (side note: Rupert Murdoch is worth $19.1 billion), and it would suit them really well to get paid by a reliable source (Google) instead of unreliable consumers.
Another advantage for the big guys
When we search on Google, YouTube, or any other platform, the results are tailored to us, and informed by our previous search history. The word algorithm has evolved from a term used by IT specialists, to one in our every day vernacular. Anyone with a small business or who spends anytime on TikTok will probably use this word daily. The algorithms on platforms we use are currently informed by our search history. Social media and search engines are known for changing their algorithms regularly, and aren't particularly forthcoming with information on how businesses or creators can use them to their advantage. In the past, this has essentially meant that all creators and media companies are on the same playing field when attempting to get their content out there.
If the The News Media Bargaining Code is successfully passed, this will no longer be the case. If passed, the law will require Google to provide large media companies with the insider information they need to 'beat' the algorithm and ensure their content is seen by the most people, regardless of how high the quality is or whether other content is better suited to the users' search term. Google is arguing that this will result in worse search results for users.
Who's for it?
Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been the political 'face' behind the code, however the entire Liberal Party has been at the helm of the decision to push for the law to be passed. Some experts say that the media giants pressured the Morrison government into the code in the first place.
The Guardian reported that the Labor party is likely to support the News Media Bargaining Code in late January, but there has been no confirmation thus far. If Labor support the code, it will likely be passed as law.
Most Australian media outlets are owned by either Rupert Murdoch or Nine Entertainment Co. These two corporations are for the code, as it passing will likely result in more money (from Google) and clicks (from the algorithm secrets they'll gain access to) for them.
Who's against it?
Smaller media companies and digital creators
Some smaller media companies and creators (especially on YouTube) are vocally opposing the code, saying it will unfairly impact them and make it even harder to compete with big companies.
Obviously, our friends at Google are against the code for pretty much every reason listed above. It's also likely to cost them big $$$. Google have even gone so far as to threaten to remove the search engine (and Facebook's news feed) from the country.
Kevin Rudd has been a staunch and vocal opposition of large media conglomerates like News Corp for some time now. He maintains that passing the law will only benefit the big media companies (and from our research, he looks to be correct). This is in interesting contrast with Labor's likelihood to support the code.
A final question
When writing this article, we couldn't help but wonder how the code might affect us as a media company should it be passed. There are many digital content creators who are vocally opposing the code, and a petition has even been launched in an attempt to stop it. The arguments against the algorithm advantages are valid, but as a small start up, we are already battling the algorithms to little avail every day. Our political article are constantly suppressed on Facebook, despite it being our most popular content. We are already fighting for a spot at the table with the big guys, and it just seems a little off that one of the biggest guys, Google, are now looking to smaller creators and companies for support. If the law is passed, how much will really change for us?