Google and Facebook have built enormously valuable global businesses by delivering on the promise of the internet and connecting people with information at the press of a search engine or the scroll of a social media feed. But these global tech platforms also have gathered up market power that, among other things, has commoditised the production of news and information. As well as promoting the good and bad of social media, this has undercut the value of news-gathering professional journalism that helps to sustain a well-informed and lively democracy.
Brought to a head by the COVID-19 pandemic, this has driven the Morrison government to impose a mandatory code of conduct on Google and Facebook in their dealings with Australian media companies. Even amid record readership gains, the coronavirus crisis has savaged advertising revenue for traditional media companies, leading to the cessation of print publication by major publishers such as News Corp and ACM. At the same time, the big tech companies appear to have used the crisis to drag the chain on negotiations on a voluntary code proposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
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The issue is not as acute for The Australian Financial Review, which although sharing the pain of the pandemic, is building a premium subscription business that relies less on advertising revenue and online traffic generated by big tech search. And, the Financial Review and other Nine mastheads have struck their own revenue deal with Google. By not recognising the impact of their market power, the big tech companies now will be required to pay some sort of royalty for the journalism they now profit from and give media companies the right to reasonably generate more advertising revenue from it. A better outcome all round would have been for big tech to take up the option of a