The Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) and Judith Neilson Institute For Journalism and Ideas (JNI) support the establishment of a Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and have outlined how it can work, including calculating the value placed on news content used by digital platforms such as Facebook and Google.
However their joint submission to the ACCC consultation also points out that the Code alone is not enough to safeguard the future of public interest journalism, floating a number of other measures that need to be urgently considered by government.
In their submission JNI and PIJI recommend:
- A hybrid bargaining framework to enable larger players to negotiate directly with digital platforms if desired, while small and medium players form a collective arrangement.
- Adopt an interim value measure, given the ACCC’s finding of an existing market imbalance and given there is no precise data on the value of news for digital platforms. An example might be a share of Australian advertising revenue or the value the Australian public places on news or the cost of producing public interest journalism.
- A pragmatic distribution model based on investment dollars in news, while a more precise formula is developed.
“We were extremely pleased to develop joint recommendations with the Judith Neilson Institute for the ACCC’s consultation on the Code governing the commercial relationship between digital platforms and media companies,” says PIJI Chair, Professor Allan Fels AO.
“While we lay out clear ways in which this Code can be effective, we also maintain that there is no silver bullet.
“If we are going to stop the contractions and closures across Australia’s news landscape, the Australian Government must also consider some of our broader recommendations for industry resilience.”
While Australia’s journalism sector has been under pressure for years by the migration of advertising online, the split of digital advertising revenue is heavily weighted towards digital platforms.
In the ACCC’s own Digital Platforms Inquiry, it noted that for every $100 spent on digital advertising, Google and Facebook accounted for $71, leaving the remaining third to be split among all other market participants.
The submission also suggests algorithmic obligations on digital platforms for sufficient notice of changes that have significant, detrimental impact upon news operations and that favour original, local and trusted content.
“The Code’s success relies upon the ACCC having sufficient powers to monitor compliance and impose significant financial penalties where necessary,” explains Professor Fels, himself a former Chair of the ACCC.”Such penalties could be calculated by a percentage of the non-compliant organisation’s annual turnover, where a breach of the code is proven.
The submission recommends a review of the Code after 12 months, to ensure future fit and to avoid unintended consequences.
The Code should also capture all media players including commercial companies, community organisations, magazines, social media-based news organisations and emerging market entrants.
“Plurality and diversity of news providers is key to a healthy news industry landscape, and therefore our democracy,” explains JNI Executive Director, Mark Ryan.
The submission highlights a number of policy measures for the Australian Government’s immediate consideration, specific to public interest journalism:
- Tax rebates to encourage investment
- Philanthropic incentives, for example a specific category of charitable purpose; Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status
- Funding for ‘other language’ news services
- Continued copyright reform
- Changes to media ownership law
According to PIJI research, the public is willing to fund public interest journalism with a tax levy of between $1.51 and $2.94 per month, which translates to between $380m and $740m a year in total support for the sector.
The Public Interest Journalism Initiative is a limited shelf-life non-profit, established to ensure Australia develops a sustainable ecosystem of independent, pluralistic journalism. We are a non-partisan organisation conducting research, developing policy solutions and building a public conversation on the importance of this issue.
PIJI’s work is guided by its core principles of public interest, diversity of voice, evidence-base, neutrality, independence and practicality.
PIJI operates as a Major Research Project of the newDemocracy Foundation.