Australia's free-to-air broadcasters issue statement demanding the government step up and tackle the 'dominance' of Google and Facebook

The peak body has called on the government to implement ACCC recommendations on digital platforms. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • Free TV, the peak body for free-to-air TV in Australia, has called upon the government to implement the recommendations of the ACCC’s digital platforms report.
  • A submission to Treasury demands that a code of conduct be implemented to regulate tech titans like Facebook and Google, which would dictate the terms of negotiation with Australian media companies.
  • Google and Facebook have pushed back to varying degrees against the ACCC’s recommendations, with Facebook arguing that they are “outmoded” and constitute undue interference.

The peak industry body for Australia’s commercial free-to-air television networks, Free TV Australia, has demanded the government implement the recommendations of a recent ACCC inquiry into digital platforms – arguing it is now “time to act” on industry disruption.

In a statement published to the organisation’s website, Free TV boss Bridget Fair argues that the government must move quickly to counteract the “growing dominance” of digital platforms like Facebook and Google.

“We are experiencing unprecedented disruption within the broadcast media industry because of the growing dominance of the largely unregulated digital platforms such as Google and Facebook,” Fair said in the statement.

“While review processes around the world are revealing the problem, the Morrison Government has a chance to lead by implementing the solutions.”

Free TV Australia represents all of Australia’s commercial free-to-air television broadcasters, including Nine Entertainment Co – the publisher of Business Insider Australia – Network Ten, and Seven West Media.

In addition, Free TV has made a submission to Treasury regarding the ACCC’s recommendations – for the most part backing the proposals in the final report.

Included in this submission are demands for measures which would tackle the dominance of global digital platforms in the local media market, including a general tightening of compliance regimes, reducing the “significant imbalance” in negotiating power, and streamlining the process for removing illegal content.

Free TV wants an enforceable code of conduct in place which would prevent tech companies from restricting the “reasonable and sustainable monetisation of Australian news and media content” on their platforms.

Also in the crosshairs are local content quotas, which Free TV argues are “not sustainable” – mostly because they do not apply to US-based digital competitors like Facebook, which are making significant moves into the in-house production and management of content.

“It is clear that the obligations and output of local content in Australia far exceed those in similar international territories,” Free TV’s submission reads.

“This suggests that the expectations of Australian commercial television broadcasters are not set at a sustainable level and that we must seriously consider whether it is reasonable for this industry sector to continue to be regulated in this manner.”

The submission acknowledges that there have been recent content deals between Facebook and local publishers, but says that such temporary arrangements do not constitute a long-term solution to the problem.

“However, it must be recognised that the recent limited content deals with Facebook do not address the long-term sustainable monetisation of premium Australian content on their platform,” the submission says.

The statement comes amid pushback from the tech giants against the ACCC’s final report.

Earlier in September, Facebook issued a submission in response to the inquiry, arguing that it does not wield excessive power over Australian media companies, and that the recommendations were based on “outmoded” understandings of how digital platforms work.

“The Final Report’s analysis does not rest on a sound evidence base. It draws unfounded conclusions based on a selective and incomplete view of the spaces in which we compete, including subscribing to outmoded distinctions between different advertising services,” Facebook said in its submission.

Following Facebook’s response, Google also flagged its opposition to some key measures of the ACCC report. In a blog post by local boss Mel Silva, Google took issue with two recommendations in particular: firstly, the suggestion that regulators directly intervene in the company’s mobile operating system Android, and secondly the proposal for “regulator-sanctioned” revenue-sharing between platforms and publishers.

The Free TV Australia statement further confirms that the conversation about digital platforms regulation in Australia is only going to heat up further – even as US tech giants try to push back.

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