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How Morrison's media bargaining code sold Australia's soul to wretched Rupert and Mark Zuckerberg

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

The News Media Bargaining Code will only further cement what the backward NBN began: a smaller, less informed, more conservative and less democratic Australia. Managing editor Michelle Pini and founder and director David Donovan report.

WHEN the Coalition’s News Media Bargaining Code first reared its bent, unwanted head, last September, Independent Australia saw it for what it was — a sop to Murdoch.

A way for the Coalition to prop up their failing corporate owner and public relations agency, the Murdoch media.

A way for minor executives in the News Corp apparatus, Morrison and Frydenberg, to further curry favour with their big boss, Rupert Murdoch, by dipping into the fortunes of Google and Facebook. And a way to curtail the increasingly annoying dissident voices of emerging news media, like Independent Australia, at the same time.

The proposed News Media Bargaining Code is utterly illogical. It only covers Facebook and Google — one a social media company and the other a search engine. It does not cover Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Liker, TikTok, Reddit and the gamut of other search engines and social media outlets. Why? Simply because Facebook and Google are the most successful, have put a hole in the advertising budgets of old media dinosaurs like News Corp and Fairfax, and so they want their share.

It is nothing more than a Murdoch tax on two major competitors. This is not the free market at work – Adam Smith’s invisible hand – this is just nepotism and cronyism. Yet another Liberal Party rort.

The rest of the world had no illusions about the intent of the Morrison Government’s bargaining code — to advantage sympathetic media organisations. However, Australia’s mainstream media (AKA sympathetic media organisations) have published nothing but puff pieces over how Josh and ScoMo socked it to Facebook and Google.

Australia really does need a royal commission into media diversity in this country. Last week’s Senate Inquiry disappeared with barely a trace.

But, you may be thinking, at least media companies are now getting paid for content by Google and Facebook. Isn’t that good for public interest journalism? And yes, the “bargaining” bit of the code has begun in earnest, with the usual billionaires and multinationals securing the early deals for who knows how much.

But shoring up more dollars for the media barons who already have the most dollars does not, despite the puff pieces, equate to more public interest journalism.

It equates to healthier bottom lines for the big few and a more uneven market for the rest.

But just to be sure, let’s take a cold, hard non-mainstream media look at recent events and the powers that influenced them.

FIRST, DO NO HARM … TO MURDOCH AND HIS MINIONS

As we mentioned before:

The first thing to understand is that Rupert doesn't like the internet. He likes more tangible things, like paper, ink and the entrails of his foes. He also doesn't really understand the internet, but knows what he doesn't like most: aggregators. 

 

Murdoch has been railing against these so-called aggregators, by which he means social media platforms and search engines, both personally and through his vast and sinister media conglomerate, for at least a decade. His argument is they are “stealing” News Corp content by posting links. Well, not just links, but also headlines and snippets (the first sentence or two). The whole thing would be rather funny – look at the silly old duffer getting angry about people sharing his stories – except Rupert is not just any old duffer. The mad old despot runs the place.

It's all about delivering more money for those who can most benefit the Coalition – namely, News Corp and Nine. Nine now also owns Fairfax after the Coalition relaxed the media ownership rules under the previous Turnbull Liberal Government (though Turnbull has now changed his tune on Murdoch).

HOW TO BE AN AUSTRALIAN "INFLUENCER"

Most readers would be aware of the “negotiations” that took place between Josh Frydenberg and Facebook. These would be the talks that were reported as a “win” for Australia but which led to Facebook effectively telling us all to piss off and then banning all Australian news content from its platform. Not only those that stand to benefit from the code but all media, including that produced by non-conglomerates.

Now, don’t get us wrong, we are not favouring one billionaire over another and Zuckerberg is hardly a beacon of progressive light. However, Australia’s Government does, in fact, favour one billionaire over another — that’s Rupes, of course.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media – coincidentally, mostly represented by News Corp and the other major benefactor of the Government’s latest largesse Nine/Fairfax (chaired by former Liberal Federal Treasurer Peter Costello) – have reached unknown private deals with Facebook.

Then yesterday, Federal Treasurer Frydenberg and Mark Zuckerberg reached a mutually beneficial accommodation. This accommodation means that Facebook (and Google) no longer need to negotiate with all publishers so long as it “brokers enough deals”. By enough deals, read News Corp, Nine, the Guardian, and, maybe, SevenWest. So, our Federal Government has just outsourced determining who survives in the new media landscape to Zuckerberg and whatever shadowy cartel run Google. So much for Australian sovereignty — it's just business!

In the case of News Corp, it has also already received consistent unrelated subsidies from the Federal Government. And now it will also be paid by Facebook for snippets of “news” – a dubious description at best – shared for free, on a free platform, to take unsuspecting readers to the paywalls of these conglomerates.

Bear in mind, News Corp has for years advertised on Facebook and Google to share its content — via links. Will we soon all need to pay to share links to paywalled Murdoch publications? We have entered the Bizarro world of policy determination.

HOW TO INFLUENCE SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION

Then there’s Google. If you can’t control what people read, you can always “negotiate”.

So far, enough media companies (the Right ones, anyway) have managed to negotiate with the world’s largest free search engine to keep it in Australia. The result of this News Media Bargaining Code means that search engine optimisation, once freely dependent on clever headlines (an area in which IA did very well), may now belong to the exalted few.

But if Google does decide to spit the dummy, how will Australia fare? Which search engine will take up the slack? One in which News Corp and/or Nine are investors, perhaps? With a bargain basement deal for everyone else.

FINALLY, SIT BACK AND WATCH PUBLIC INTEREST JOURNALISM DIE

As we have mentioned before, Murdoch’s media monopoly is the only thing keeping the Coalition in power, after all. It stands to reason, then, that whatever Rupert wants, the Coalition will try their darndest to deliver.

And Rupert wants his media empire to continue to rake in the big bucks, and the big aggregators, like Google and Facebook, have put a dent in his pre-internet monopoly. In addition, small publishers, like Independent Australia, have made increasing inroads through social media, search engine optimisation and, most of all, damned fine journalism. Honest journalism. It provides a point of difference from the Murdoch mob, after all.

But how to compensate Rupert (and other mainstream media players)?

Basically, the Government in its puffed-up self-important small-mindedness has abdicated another of its key duties and outsourced the regulation and provision of public interest journalism to Google and Facebook. Now, these multinationals will decide by negotiations with other key players, News Corp, Nine and the Guardian (which is also foreign-owned) to decide what news and information we can view.

If the point of this new Code was to assist public interest journalism, the Government could instead ensure foreign conglomerates like Google and Facebook – and, indeed, all internet search engines and social media platforms ‒ pay their fair share of tax. From this revenue, they could properly fund the national broadcaster and provide serious grants and subsidies for investigative and independent public interest journalism. Funds that are independently negotiated and not beholden to foreign, multinational and or/corporate interests. Funding that is not tied to organisation, ideology or side of politics.  

But, of course, that was never the intent of this, or any future media code this Coalition Government may instigate.

As we foreshadowed, the Murdoch media machine has employed the Morrison Government to further expedite its goal of controlling the narrative and manipulating the way people can find news and information.

And now Rupert Murdoch has a new stream of revenue from Facebook and Google — a disaster for all those worldwide who would hasten its decline.

For emerging online news rivals like Independent Australia, relegated to the bottom of the negotiating list, we can only hope people will still be able to find and share our content. There will be no buckets of money for us. Only your continued support can possibly sustain us. With Labor supporting the new Code, we are left with few champions.

The News Media Bargaining Code is a small-minded move that will only further cement what the backward NBN began: a smaller, less informed, more conservative and less democratic Australia.

A Murdoch backwater, with no way out.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow, on Twitter, IA managing editor Michelle Pini @vmp9 and founder and director Dave Donovan @davrosz. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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