Laughing Stock: Australia’s new media code rivals our climate policy for absurdity

by | Feb 21, 2021 | Business, Government

Google good, Facebook bad. That sums up mainstream media coverage of the Coalition government’s bizarre new media code. That’s because Google paid up, Facebook decided it was extortion and called Josh Frydenberg’s bluff, banning Australian news. Kim Wingerei and Michael West report on the corruption of mainstream media.

As if Rupert Murdoch and the Coalition had not already flubbed Australia’s credibility around the world for their failure on climate change, now we look like we don’t know how the internet works.

It is either that, the Dumb Aussies narrative, or something more sinister. The Morrison government, with the feeble connivance of Labor, has demanded Google and Facebook pay News Corp, Nine and Coalition-friendly media organisations for “content”, for their stories that is. 

Yet, in their childish fervor to bust into the market and prop up these government friendly publishers, their bizarre Digital Media Code has got it completely wrong. Google and Facebook don’t even publish their stories, merely links to their stories. 

The reader then clicks on the link and it takes them to the publisher’s website. Google and Facebook are doing the legacy media a favour; it’s free advertising.

This Digital Media Code has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with politics. Morrison & co have just bought off the media in what may well be an election year. 

With the UK trust fund-backed Guardian Australia the latest to sign with Google, only the ABC remains outside the tent, apparently too terrified of upsetting the government, and perhaps themselves too tempted by the spectre of Google’s money, to say anything. So far, barely a squeak.

Feeding the Chooks: Scott Morrison’s marketing triumph over mainstream media

If Australia is regarded with faint horror for its failure to act on climate science, this media “world first” will well and truly have us all smeared across the globe. It really is the flip-side of corporate capture on coal and gas.

In climate and energy, governments are captured by fossil fuel companies, captured to the point of siding with Donald Trump on emissions timetables. In this case, major media organisations and government have captured each other.

Zuckerberg v Frydenberg

Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg was at Harvard in the same year the undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. That was 2005. So when Josh rang Mark last week to discuss his Digital Media Code, one might have expected some cordiality between the old-time Ivy Leaguers.

It was only a few hours later however, that the Facebook founder called Josh’s bluff and banned Australian news sites from his platform altogether, clumsily sweeping up emergency services and all manner of community Facebook pages in the ban.

Zuckerberg is betting his show of force will deter other governments from caving in to their media mates. Google on the other hand has merely bought off big media. Guardian Australia is the last one to strike a deal so now the entire Canberra Bubble has been locked in with payments prised out of Google by the Coalition government.

Google News Showcase all show

According to Google sources however, they regard their pay-offs as just that, protection money, money to get the mainstream media off their backs. When asked whether this small player, Michael West Media, would have a chance of getting money from Google News Showcase, we were told probably not. 

Most of these deals with Big Media were struck, at least negotiated, before even the draft Bill had been made law. Google simply went out and picked off each organisation one by one. Four mid-sized operators to start: The Conversation, Crikey, New Daily and Saturday Paper. 

Then the big fanboys. Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network, an effusive cheerleader for the Coalition. Then Nine, the only media company to host a Liberal Party fundraiser, then News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s neo-conservative propaganda machine.    

Murdoch and Nine were the prime movers. First, the ACCC was bamboozled into holding an inquiry which purported to be about fair competition. Then the Government was persuaded to think the issues were media diversity and quality of journalism, and not about advertising revenue. 

Google had sniffed the wind, setting up its Google News Showcase to head off regulatory action, to lure influential publishers with payments for their content. In light of this organisation’s efforts to find a phone number, even a human being, to talk with, the Showcase it would appear is just that. So we have Google payments made with no reference the the Code – the government’s laws – and an elusive program called Showcase.

On a short term basis, Google’s PR campaign has worked. Facebook has been smashed by all the same media who just picked up millions in cash extorted from Google. Google’s press has been good. The usual hysterical voices have been slamming Facebook for its “dog act” to all Australians, etc. 

Politics not policy

If the government were given to making good policy, rather than locking in big media mates for the next election, they would simply tax Facebook and Google properly, then deploy the funds to subsidise public interest journalism, perhaps along with tax incentives. They have failed to tax them properly. Although both digital platforms pay more income tax in Australia than Rupert Murdoch’s News Australia Holdings (zero for 6 years now), it is still negligible for their size and market power.

Their real (not claimed) profit margins in this country are so huge that it is far more effective for them to pay, say $100 million collectively to a few corrupted old media companies than 30% tax in the dollar (before their tax avoidance tricks).

Some data points (using Similarweb data to make it comparable, may differ from our own data).

  • Junkee.com has done a deal with Google – their total Australian traffic (January) is 370,000 visits – 100,000 less than Michael West Media.
  • News.com.au gets 8.2% of their traffic from social media
  • smh.com.au gets 7.3%
  • abc.net.au 7.5%
  • MWM 39.7% (60% of that is FB, but I have no way of breaking down that figure from others)
  • News Limited suggested they were losing $1billion in annual revenue to Facebook and Google
  • Nine Media (Costello) thought it was at least $600 million.

In terms of public interest, the media code will only distort news for consumers. Facebook users, already barraged by fake news, will have less real news to balance their views. The Google payments will bring established old media players even closer and more dependent on government here. It keeps old inefficient businesses alive while penalising its smaller independent rivals.

And as this story in RenewEconomy contends, it will only drag out and exacerbate the toxic influence of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in undermining critical action on climate change – not to mention all public policy. 

Look forward to a more captured political class and a more subservient mainstream media.   

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Wingerei

Kim Wingerei

Kim Wingerei is a businessman turned writer and commentator. He is passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, Kim has lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’. 

28 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is a long-shot, may sit here and be ignored. That’s OK.
    Michael’s Youtube clips are pretty good – audio & video high quality. If my “news” was tiled across a smallish screen, I’d want to see what he had to say. Not so with Scotty’s daily adventures, but they are pushed onto the TV news, taking up valuable time & space. Imagine if the Govt spot was taken by Dutton or Cash! If Morrison had a competitor for presenting the “daily” we wouldn’t want to have that choice, would we?
    Anyway, FWIW, DW News is excellent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIcDqs5GLNw&ab_channel=DWNews on Chip Wars has just about everything. What do you think?

  2. Avatar

    Get in on other social media platforms such as YouTube, Patreon and TikTok.

    TikTok especially as it’s a small video to a link you can post (usually 1-2 mins)

    It’s even better when it’s done naturally

    A weekly podcast of the major issues would be great as it can be linked directly to the articles.

    We all can support you, this is a small bump in the road

  3. Avatar

    Surprisingly difficult (IMO) to actually find this “Google News Showcase” that is at the focus of this particular sideshow. Apparently you only get it inside yet another app. I had a quick look just now, and it seems awful. I wonder if we will ever learn usage statistics of it? For me, I’ll stick with your email newsletter and RSS feed: Feedly is the best option IMO: do your statistics count that as “social media” or “other web references”? Does anyone else use your RSS feed?

    • Avatar

      By our estimates, Google News represents less than 2% of its traffic in Oz.

  4. Avatar

    Notice how Guardian Australia jumped in boots and all to sit at the Murdoch table …. the one extorted from GOOGLE, and as if that’s not enough at the bottom of a lot of GA articles they put the boot into FB.

    Once again the Murdoch’s use their Australian govt to tighten their hold on what Aussies are allowed to know ..,. so don’t hand over your money to GUARDIAN AUSTRALIA anymore, park it here and in other left wing organisations that deserve to keep informing you as to what is happening to Australia.

    • Avatar

      Crikey has been one of the best and most consistent on this new media code, explaining technical issues, broader impacts and how this is catering to oligopolists.

      Meanwhile The Guardian (v. disappointed with their conservative coverage), plus The Conversation and the ABC too, have rolled over for power…… however, I beg to differ with ‘extorted from GOOGLE‘; Google simply had Oz media agree in using Google’s already developed global News Showcase product for individual (language) markets, for a fraction of the original media’ ambit claims.

      This is looking more like nativist politicians of all parties, and journalists or media types from legacy media, joining forces as an elite legacy market oligopoly against global digital innovation, and the confected bogeymen of BigTech i.e. Google/Facebook monopoly, not paying taxes (pots and kettles), but embedding legacy media at the expense of Australians wanting to access quality news content via their choice of media (vs. a strong oligopoly of NewsCorp, 9Fairfax and 7West?).

      • Avatar

        It’s not the first time The Guardian has supped of the koolaid cup. K Murphy adored the Churchillian Scomo in the early days of the pandemic.

        Maybe why no one challenged Scomo’s tangent last week that all businesses have a culture of sexual predation. To paraphrase him, “Law firms, accountants and even media outlets have these problems.” It went unchallenged at a PM’s presser, and begged the simple question, “PM, can I have data with that?”

    • Avatar

      And why are the bloody Greens supporing the code? To placate the NSW Trots with the Maoist mantra, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”? Rupert, Costello and Sen. Hanson-Young mates? Go figure.

  5. Avatar

    Good article. This issue was never about news. It was only ever about money, advertising money. Google and Facebook don’t need news to drive advertising. It is entirely peripheral to their businesses. Our moronic Liberal government, after taking instructions from their proprietor, Rupert, have made it about news as a smokescreen to hide the grift. Zuckerberg isn’t saying that the Australian government shouldn’t make the rules for Australia. He is just saying that the rules don’t suit his business so he will withdraw.

    I find it incredible (I probably shouldn’t) that a government that lauds business and its right to make rational economic decisions in the interests of its shareholders gets a froth up when a business does just that. Just think about this in the context of the verbal gymnastics that the government gets up to to justify all sorts of subsidies and deals for mining companies (including coal mining companies) because, horror of horrors, if the conditions aren’t right the companies will go somewhere else.

  6. Avatar

    “banning Australian news”

    Not true, they banned all news from Australians no matter what the source.

  7. Avatar

    What everyone seems to have missed is that the Media Bargaining Code requires designated social media platforms to provide special comment moderation facilities for registered news providers, so that they can filter or remove users’ comments on the platform, and block specific users from commenting. This is not just the Sydney Morning Herald moderating comments on their own Facebook page – it is (apparently) the ability to moderate and block comments on a reposting of a link wherever it occurs on the platform.

    What I find bothers me most about this, is that there is nothing about it in the news media: the depth of analysis of the media bargaining code is generally shallow (the article on this page is among the better ones) and doesn’t address either this potential for blanket censorship, or the arbitrariness of the minister’s designation of which social media platforms are liable under the Code.

    • Avatar

      Interesting how many MPs, and leaders, now prefer Facebook etc. when they can turn off and/or edit comments making their communication one way and top down, without the outside experts and/or plebs complaining.

      Also, the legacy media, including The Guardian and The Conversation too, have framed this issue in such away that it avoids or ignores other tricky but related issues e.g. monopoly or anti-competitive behaviour of all, negative impact if Google removed links on small business etc. SEO, .assumption that any revenue will be invested back into journalism etc.; a good example of what is wrong with Australian media, political, corporate world and out insularity re. the outside world.

  8. Avatar

    Getting your news from social media is just lazy. Go out online and find out for your self. You get a vast array of news services and articles that dwarf what is on offer in FB and other social media. By not using social media to get news you get algorithm free news. However you do have to do it yourself and it seems substantial numbers of people are too lazy and let others look for them.

  9. Avatar

    Not sure but it seems to me this has been an own goal by Rupert.. Hassle to get social media to pay him for free advertising he was already receiving now he has lost his biggest distribution source?? How hss he won in that equation?

  10. Avatar

    In the future when it becomes easy and second nature to throw “gold coins” in a website’s tip jar, using our digital wallets that work everywhere, there will be more revenue unblocked. Subscriptions are roadblocking the transaction between customer and their intent to read one article at that moment. Incentivizing leaving a digital tip could include access to other areas, or some other reward on wider scale if the technology had wide adoption. The technology would be open and transparent and cost-effective, without middlemen trying to be your best pal.

  11. Avatar

    Hi Kim, from Perth. Yeh, this is CLASSIC LNP/Murdoch skullduggery designed to fool the public and get more money to prop up their inefficient toxic news media. I got so annoyed about it I posted a long discussion up for review which seems to have gone slightly viral (!) U might find it useful/interesting. https://www.facebook.com/eranmalloch/posts/10160848177563452

  12. Avatar

    Hi Michael and Team, after reading this refreshing media analysis of this particular issue I am now a $10/month subscriber.

    Further, it was mentioned “but I have no way of breaking down that figure from others” so I want to help guide you guys where my subscription was sourced from. (1a) I hear you regularly referred to, and talked up, by FriendlyJordies (1b) I see you and your articles on Twitter (2) Tonight I found you via Googling “Michael West”, and (3) The reporting of this particular story made me an instant subscriber, after wanting to pull my hair out listening to the News Media Bargaining Code being discussed in non-independent media over the last several months. I hope this customer journey might help your planning, post the Facebook News Ban.

    Looking forward to making the most of my new subscription 🙂
    Cheers!

    • Avatar

      Just wanted to chime in and echo EXACTLY what Axel said; I’m now a $10/month subscriber due to 1a and 3.

      I’ve lost what little respect I had for these news media companies since seeing their reporting on this issue (I genuinely thought there would be enough integrity left to report on it a bit more fairly and clearly), and I’m incredibly disheartened to see the ABC doing the exact same thing. It was doing my head in – so it was with a genuine sense of relief that I found your articles on this issue.
      Keep up the good work – it’s extremely important to a lot of people out here.

      • Avatar

        Yep. I’m used to being disappointed by many mainstream media outlets, but to see how the ABC have handled this has been like being gut punched by a family member. Thank gawd for FriendlyJordies, and now Michael West Media!

  13. Avatar

    Great piece of unbiased journalism. Very refreshing to actually find some real journalism. Thanks for your time and you have now have a new reader on michaelwest.com

  14. Avatar

    Morrison is getting great press overseas, for being such a brave little Digger. Ignoring the fact that he timidly charges Google and Facebook about 1-2% tax on their true (not fake, distorted) Australian revenues.

    • Avatar

      Isn’t there 10% GST on their services like everyone else?

  15. Avatar

    ‘MWM [gets] 39.7% [of their traffic from social media] (60% of that is FB)’

    ow – sorry to hear that – I avoid FakeBook like the plague – my FB was a woman.

  16. Avatar

    Those MW readers who want to promote MW could place MW links in their comments online at SMH and Guardian.

  17. Avatar

    I’m surprised those australian media companies took any money from Google. Unless the code has changed since I last had a look at it, it said that if the australian media and the big platforms couldn’t come to commercial agreement after 3 months of negotiations, it would go to some umpire (the code is obviously vague about what this umpire would do). Surely the australian media would just hold on accepting google offers since the government is on their side and they could see what this so called ‘umpire’ could get for them.

  18. Avatar

    What ever one thinks about this issue it has clearly shown that Facebook can not be trusted to be consistent and exercises its own form of censorship on its own terms

  19. Avatar

    If the new rules are so bad how was that the ACCC, a respectable organisation came up with them. Michael West says the ACCC was “sooled” onto Facebook etc, but they are independent and have professional staff, so what are we supposed to think actually went on?

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