Google has ramped up its campaign against Australian laws to make it pay for the news it uses, adding a bold, yellow banner to all web results from its Australian search engine.
The hard-to-miss banner ads send viewers to a YouTube video rubbishing the laws, and represent an escalation of the trillion-dollar firm’s war against the proposal from Australia’s competition watchdog.
But its move has attracted criticism from media experts and members of the public alike, with more than third of reactions to its YouTube video a “thumbs down” amid scathing comments.
The search giant’s latest move comes just one week after Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said the company would “stop making Google search available in Australia” if the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was passed into law.
Ms Silva said the withdrawal would be “a bad outcome for us but also for the Australian people,” but the company would only pay to support journalism under its own proposed News Showcase format.
If passed, Australia’s news code would force Google and Facebook to negotiate with registered media outlets over sharing revenue for using their news stories on the digital platforms. All news outlets with revenue of $150,000 a year could register for payment.
Following Ms Silva’s Senate appearance, Google launched an ad campaign on social networks featuring the ad that now appears above all Australian search results, including searches for news outlets Channel 9, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Gizmodo Australia, Ausdroid, Finder, and News Corp publications including The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Courier-Mail.
A Google spokesperson said the extension of its campaign was about “providing information to our users, as we have the entire way through this process, to ensure they know our position, which is that we are willing to pay to support Australian journalism and are proposing reasonable changes to the law to make it workable”.
The company’s video has split its audience, however, attracting more than 19,000 downvotes — more than half those who liked it — and comments about “bullying” behaviour.
Swinburne University media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said Google’s argument in the video was “disingenuous” for suggesting that paying for links would “break the web” when the company itself raked in billions of dollars from digital ads placed around search results.
Dr Barnet said the video also underlined that Google was only willing to pay for news reporting if it set the rates and the rules, in this case under its proposed News Showcase product.
“They are not willing to support journalism or news unless it’s on their own terms and via their own product, which is a walled garden,” she said.
“News Showcase is a product, just like Google Maps, and in paying for news through that product they are keeping it separate from the main search results. They’re not willing to pay for journalism or news content on anyone’s terms except their own.”
Google first announced its News Showcase plan in June last year — just a month before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission outlined its plans for the news bargaining code.
The scheme, funded by $1.3 billion for all publishers worldwide over three years, initially included a handful of small Australian publishers, including Solstice Media, but Australia’s inclusion was suspended after the launch of the draft news code.
News website The Conversation this week reported that Google had sought to “resume discussions” over a deal, however.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said Google’s proposed solution, while a sign of progress, was also an example of a “take-it-or-leave-it offer” from the tech giant without room for negotiation or an even playing field.
“In the end — and this is important — the decision about what (Google’s News) Showcase will look like, how it will operate, and whether it offers the news business a Showcase deal is all entirely up to Google,” Mr Sims told the Senate inquiry.
“This is why the Showcase product does not address the imbalance in bargaining power that the code is designed to remedy.”
The Senate inquiry into the news bargaining code will continue on Monday, with a final report due by February 12.