journalism strikes back

journalism strikes back

NEW YORK – Two years ago, the Australian Parliament passed the News Media Bargaining Code, which required Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google) to compensate media outlets whose news content was shared on their platforms. . The law has been a remarkable success, with the news media receiving more than AU$200 million ($133 million) a year from Big Tech.

Australia’s media code has garnered a lot of attention at a time when funding for local news is plummeting, the number of journalistic jobs is declining and policies to encourage high-quality news production are urgently needed. Google and Facebook have drawn in large amounts of ad revenue that would otherwise be received by traditional news outlets, and policymakers around the world are increasingly recognizing that major technology platforms have a level of responsibility in supporting news journalism. public interest.

With little fanfare, other countries – such as Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States – have initiated their own versions of the Australian law. As Pierrick Judeaux, portfolio director of the new International Fund for Public Interest Media, recently observed, the media code has become part of Australia’s “soft power”. Over the past two years, Australian officials have traveled the world to promote it, warning their peers that Google and Facebook will lobby hard, bolster their pressure with big money and play dirty to prevent the spread of such laws. .

Google, in particular, has stepped up the intensity of its efforts to block these laws. In several countries, smaller and online media are concerned that the media code mainly benefits traditional print media. Capitalizing on this skepticism and seeking to create divisions, Google has closed private deals with a select group of Canadian media and aims to begin formal negotiations with South African media in the coming weeks. To receive financial support from the company, the media must promise to refrain from seeking additional compensation in case new laws are enacted.

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But Google has gone further, actively promoting the narrative that only mainstream media have benefited from the Australian media code. This claim is false: this law has benefited both large media outlets in the Rupert Murdoch conglomerate and small news organizations. Country Press Australia, an association representing more than 100 regional and local news outlets, and the Minderoo Foundation have partnered with small media to facilitate collective bargaining. In a recent assessment of the new law, the Australian Treasury revealed that 30 funding agreements have been reached so far, some of them spanning dozens of publications.

Although the media code is not perfect, it is a valuable tool that should be strengthened rather than attacked. One of the criticisms it has received in Australia is that payments from big technology to the media are kept secret. If enacted, the Canadian version would improve transparency by requiring news organizations to disclose this information to regulators (but not to the general public). The Canadian bill also sets eligibility criteria, requiring media outlets to meet certain editorial standards and employ a minimum of two full-time staff. What’s more, qualifying outlets should send you annual reports.

Future versions of the code should include clauses that require agreements between media organizations and technology companies to be made public and that media outlets that receive funding from technology companies such as Google and Facebook use them to improve their news coverage. Information on how digital platforms calculate the value of the news they disseminate and how they determine their payment schedule should also be publicly available. This level of transparency is crucial to ensure that the news media are treated fairly. In addition, smaller media outlets should also be included in these codes, as media advocacy organizations such as Britain’s Public Interest News Foundation, South Africa’s National Editors’ Forum and Brazil’s Digital Journalism Association have emphasized. For their part, governments should refrain from consolidating the codes into sweeping bills that impose limitations on freedom of expression and allow the state to censor news content.

As Brazilian journalist Natalia Viana has recently noted, Google’s tactic has distanced its supporters from it, causing adverse repercussions for it. Faced with the growing popularity of the Australian media code, Google has resorted to making threats, saying it would stop spreading news if asked to pay for it and, to journalists, that it would withdraw their financial support from news outlets. Brazilian authorities are investigating the company for “abusive practices” related to its lobbying against the local version of the bill.

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In early May, just before it was scheduled to be voted on, Google modified its search results so that users who entered queries would receive results claiming the bill would ruin the internet.

It has been frustrating to witness the scant coverage given to the heavy-handed tactics adopted by Google and Facebook.

The secret negotiations between the platforms and news organizations in South Africa, where the media are rushing to a deal with Google in desperation because they cannot afford to wait for the legislative process to finish, illustrate the magnitude of the current crisis. .

Funding quality journalism requires a collective effort, and it is crucial that Big Tech platforms do their part.

Considering that Google and Facebook have resisted paying royalties, have tried to avoid paying taxes, appealed the fines they have received, and vigorously lobbied to influence legislators and journalists, it is far from clear that they will end up accepting at all any financing plan. But after years of making huge profits by disseminating quality journalistic content produced by others, it’s about time they stopped putting up obstacles and paid for it.

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