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Australia enacts law making Google and Facebook pay for news

AUSTRALIA’S Parliament passed the News Media Bargaining Code today, requiring tech giants Google and Facebook to pay for news content.

The law has been welcomed as a landmark levy making the two digital companies pay for the content that attracts many of their users — but critics said last-minute amendments negotiated by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg following the firm’s dramatic shutdown of Australian media pages last week showed corporate players still wielded far too much power.

When Facebook restored access to the pages “headlines said Facebook had backed down — in reality it looks like the government has again watered down the code,” International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) general secretary Anthony Bellanger told the Morning Star. 

He warned that Facebook had not ruled out similar shutdowns in future if it feels its interests are threatened by elected governments.

And while Google has signed deals with firms like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Seven West Media, Country Press Australia said small publications outside large cities looked set to miss out on any benefit from the new law.

A statement issued by the IFJ on behalf of Australian, British, Canadian and US journalists’ unions said: “While we welcome steps taken by the Australian government to make tech giants like Facebook and Google pay for the news content they profit from, we do not believe the solution is to be found in individual private commercial deals that lack transparency.

“The steps need to be bigger, bolder and ensure that any money raised does not just go to propping up the same monopoly media owners. Any monies must be used transparently to build and sustain a genuinely public-interest media that supports, among others, community, not-for-profit and local media.

“If governments were to tax their revenues or their profits, an independent fund could use those revenues to support a news recovery plan, saving jobs, sustaining media, supporting new voices. We could not only retain jobs but [create] more diversity, more quality information and more jobs. The receipt of any funds must be strictly conditioned on investing in journalism.”

The Morning Star will publish an exclusive interview with IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger on the new law next week.

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