Tech giants are set to fight tooth-and-nail today in a bid to dodge paying for Australian news content.
Google and Facebook will front a senate inquiry on Friday, after threatening to derail future investments in Australia over the government’s media law reforms.
The Coalition is locked in a battle with tech giants as it pushes ahead with world-first laws that would force them to pay news outlets for content.
They will face a grilling from government politicians and independent senator Rex Patrick, who is in favour of the law.
Earlier this month, Google admitted to hiding some news sites and stories from Australians, insisting the “experiment” was routine and only affected 1 per cent of users.
But Senator Patrick described the explanation as “disingenuous”, saying the move was a warning shot to the federal government.
“Google’s behaviour is straight out of the Chinese Communist Party’s playbook, and it’s not appreciated,” he told The Australian.
The legislation was introduced to parliament in December after an 18-month review process by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The review found democracy faced a potential threat from the market power wielded by tech giants over the media industry.
The bill includes an independent umpire that would choose between offers put forward by each side, if the parties could not agree on a fee for news content.
But Google and Facebook were outraged by the government’s proposal, and tensions remained high despite a consultation period.
Google rejected the government’s mandatory bargaining code in December, saying it “fell short” of being workable, but claimed it remained committed to creating a functional code.
Facebook threatened to prevent Australian users from sharing news on its platform in September.
The ACCC and a group of Australian news outlets, including News Corp Australia, the publisher of this article, will give evidence to the inquiry after Google and Facebook.
The government agreed to include public broadcaster SBS and the ABC after lobbying from the Greens.
The US has asked the federal government to suspend its plan to implement the laws, saying it could develop a voluntary code after “further studying the market”.
“The US Government is concerned that an attempt, through legislation, to regulate the competitive positions of specific players … to the clear detriment of two US firms, may result in harmful outcomes,” assistant US trade representatives Daniel Bahar and Karl Ehlers said in a submission.