Face­book back­lash fear

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - LEO SHANA­HAN DAVID SWAN

The Mor­ri­son govern­ment is con­cerned about forc­ing dig­i­tal gi­ants to pay me­dia com­pa­nies for us­ing their jour­nal­ism, out of fear they could be in­ter­preted as new taxes. Sources close to the govern­ment in­di­cate this is one of the ma­jor con­cerns as the govern­ment pre­pares to re­spond to the ACCC’s dig­i­tal plat­forms re­port.

The Mor­ri­son govern­ment is con­cerned about forc­ing dig­i­tal gi­ants to pay me­dia com­pa­nies for us­ing their jour­nal­ism out of fear they could be in­ter­preted as new taxes, as it moves to re­spond to the ACCC’s land­mark re­port into dig­i­tal plat­forms’ im­pact on jour­nal­ism.

Sources close to the govern­ment in­di­cate one ma­jor con­cern of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Paul Fletcher and Trea­surer Josh Fry­den­berg in re­spond­ing to the ACCC’s fi­nal re­port is the prospect of forc­ing dig­i­tal plat­forms to pay rev­enue to me­dia com­pa­nies or the govern­ment — and those mea­sures be­ing in­ter­preted as a new tax.

As well as a per­cep­tion of a Lib­eral govern­ment plac­ing new taxes on dig­i­tal com­pa­nies, there is also con­cern that com­pa­nies such as Face­book and Google could re­lo­cate their ac­tiv­i­ties off­shore, re­sult­ing in a loss of lo­cal rev­enues and jobs. The govern­ment has a pref­er­ence for any new rev­enue shar­ing to be done at a global level to pre­vent loss of rev­enue or jobs lo­cally.

One of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the ACCC’s fi­nal re­port into dig­i­tal plat­forms was that Google and Face­book en­ter into a code of con­duct with me­dia com­pa­nies to mon­i­tor and reg­u­late the use of their jour­nal­ism.

Ac­cord­ing to ACCC boss Rod Sims, this could in­clude a new rev­enue stream to me­dia com­pa­nies, with Google and Face­book forced to pay for the use of orig­i­nal jour­nal­ism.

The Aus­tralian re­ported this week that the govern­ment was pre­par­ing to de­lay the re­sponse to the dig­i­tal plat­forms in­quiry that it had pre­vi­ously promised to re­lease by the end of the year.

The Aus­tralian un­der­stands that although cabi­net was slated to re­view the re­sponse this week, it is yet to do so and it may not hap­pen un­til next week.

The re­sponse is be­ing man­aged by Mr Fry­den­berg, Mr Fletcher and At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Christian Porter with the fi­nal re­sponse doc­u­ment not yet com­plete. Amid the de­lay, in­dus­try group Digi and Google have en­gaged in in­creased lob­by­ing ac­tiv­ity to soften the govern­ment’s re­sponse to the re­port, with the likes of New­gate, Nick

Camp­bell’s APAC Nexus Group and TG En­deav­our lob­by­ing for the dig­i­tal gi­ant.

TG En­deav­our in­cludes Scott Mor­ri­son’s for­mer pol­icy di­rec­tor Bren­dan Tegg and for­mer La­bor com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Stephen Con­roy.

De­spite Face­book hav­ing a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist in Canberra, the com­pany claims it has not em­ployed any lob­by­ists to in­flu­ence the govern­ment’s out­come on the ACCC re­port. “We cur­rently have ab­so­lutely no lob­by­ists, we’re not pay­ing any­one for the ACCC matter or any re­lated mat­ters in Aus­tralia,” the spokesman said.

Face­book has hit back at claims it is try­ing to stonewall the ACCC’s dig­i­tal plat­forms in­quiry, telling The Aus­tralian it sup­ports most of the watch­dog’s rec­om­men­da­tions and has made no at­tempts to de­lay their im­ple­men­ta­tion. A Face­book spokes­woman said in a state­ment that the com­pany sup­ports 15 of the 29 rec­om­men­da­tions, and out­right op­poses only five.

How­ever, in its re­sponse to the ACCC’s fi­nal re­port, Face­book ac­cused the reg­u­la­tor of “in­ac­cu­rate” and “spec­u­la­tive anal­y­sis” based on “fac­tual er­rors” and a mis­un­der­stand­ing of how dig­i­tal plat­forms op­er­ated.

Face­book also ob­jected to any rev­enue or data-shar­ing code of con­duct with me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Face­book claimed the code — which me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions have wel­comed — would “un­fairly shel­ter me­dia” com­pa­nies that didn’t need the pro­tec­tion of a reg­u­la­tor.

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