PM shrugs off concern over Google's threat

Rebecca Gredley
·2-min read

Scott Morrison shows no signs of blinking first in response to Google's threat to remove its search engine from Australia over the proposed media bargaining code.

While the prime minister plays public hardball with the tech giant, smaller publishers and regional newspapers have voiced concern the code is swayed to the bigger media companies.

Mr Morrison shrugged off concerns over Google's possible exit, saying "Microsoft's pretty confident" when asked if another search engine could fill the void.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said it was a decision for Google, but was quick to note Microsoft has reached out to the federal government to show its willingness to expand in Australia.

"This is a potential commercial opportunity for other providers of search," Mr Fletcher told the ABC on Monday.

The planned code forces tech giants, namely Google and Facebook, to pay news companies for content or face hefty fines.

It's designed to even out the playing field between the tech giants, propped up by huge advertising revenues, and news companies.

Google has threatened to pull its search engine from Australia if the code isn't changed, arguing it would have no other choice due to the financial risk created by the impending law.

Facebook says it would have to stop sharing news articles on its platform.

Mr Fletcher and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held firm on the code in a meeting with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend.

A Senate inquiry into the underpinning bill is due to report by February 12, with possible recommendations to the government on how to tweak the code.

Country Press Australia president Bruce Ellen flagged concerns the code rewards larger companies at the expense of smaller ones.

Solstice Media chairman Eric Beecher said bigger media companies benefited from the exposure and clicks afforded to them from Google and Facebook.

He argued for tech giants to pay both proper corporate tax and to support public interest journalism, as well as including a mechanism in the planned code to protect media diversity.

The media union urged senators to tweak the bill so it ensures money paid by tech giants goes towards journalism.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has backed that call, saying the 12-month review of the code should look at how it's impacting small, independent and start-up publications.

Separate from the code, the South Australian has called on the government to permanently establish a fund for public interest news gathering, which was set up with an initial $50 million to help regional media during the pandemic.

An extra $5 million was announced for Australian Associated Press to help the newswire in the wake of its near closure last year.

AAP is excluded from the code as it's a news wholesaler, but Senator Hanson-Young has called on the government to fund the newswire long-term to ensure its future.