Australia’s ACCC bats for media monopoly takeover of Internet news

Contributed from a member of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp and Nine Entertainment have been pressing the Australian government for a law that forces online platforms to pay them, as publishers, for news content accessed on the Internet.

Internet platforms would be forced to pass on to them a portion of the revenue they collect.

The media monopolies are now receiving a helping hand to get their wish. The Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a concept paper yesterday (19 May 2020), where it not only raises forcing the tech giants to pay, but also, to allow the new organisations the right to boycott, if negotiations to accommodate them don’t go well. Another part of the proposal is to allow the media companies to negotiate collectively on a one to one basis with their rivals.

Justification is provided by an argument that the internet platforms are now really trading partners with traditional news companies operating in Australia, and this brings a need to adjust the power imbalance.

One doesn’t have to be particularly fond of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, to realise that there is more going on than this.

Print media, television and radio are losing their share of the market and advertising revenue, as more and more people turn to their computers and smart phones to get their news.

Traditional media companies are responding by transitioning to digital publishing. To become the big players, these media companies must either remove the dominant players or tie them into their business model, force them to open a big door and pass on a large part of their profit.

Remember Peter Costello? He was treasurer in John Howard’s government. These days he’s Chair of Nine Entertainment, and able and willing to use his political network to advantage.

But the big player is really Newscorp, and to become the dominant Internet force is central to its global strategy. A key component is to bypass what can’t be achieved in the market, by inducing governments to pass laws that give it the advantage.

We are seeing this strategy unfolding in Australia. Newscorp has specifically called on the Australian government to break up Google

Photo from Reuters: Rupert Murdoch

There are good business reasons for this. It would provide a massive source of new profit. Secondly, in the Australian context, it would counter the losing fortunes of Foxtel, in which Newscorp has 50 percent of the ownership

Rupert Murdoch is also a very political animal, who uses his business to promote his own vision of the world. One which can be seen in the content of the company’s media outlets. Extending the Newscorp monopoly to online news would further erode the diversity of news and effectively censor alternative views, through contractual arrangements forced onto the Internet platforms.

The best about the Internet to date, is that it provides free and low cost information and means of communication, which can be accessed by just about everyone. Switching over to a pay as you use system, which is what is being pushed, will put an end to this. Access to information would be limited to those who can afford it, and this is undemocratic.

The Internet platforms are far from perfect and this is an issue that needs attention. But opening the door for a takeover by the likes of Newscorp is not an answer. It would make matters a damn sight worse, and this is why it must not be allowed to happen.

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