On Monday, the Australian government said it planned to succeed where your European colleagues have failed: forcing Facebook and Google to pay for news.
"Australia seeks to become the first country in the world to demand successful payment for content," Australia's treasurer Josh Frydenberg I wrote in the Australian. "There's a lot at stake – nothing short of the future of our media landscape."
On April 19, Frydenberg announced that despite the negotiations between the Australian government and Google and Facebook that have been underway since December, the government would come up with a plan in which these companies would be forced to pay news organizations for the use of their material. The plan is due to be presented in July and implemented soon after, accelerated by the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which an analyst called "media extinction event."
Australia's statement – which left a Facebook executive telling BuzzFeed News that he was "disappointed" – can preview what's coming around the world as coronavirus wreaks havoc in the news industry, leaving tech giants relatively less damaged.
"COVID-19 is putting tremendous pressure on publishers," David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, a global commercial group, told BuzzFeed News. "This ends up putting pressure on the platforms to reach a sustainable agreement for the publishing industry."
And that pressure can come from national governments, including the United States.
"Pressure is increasing in Europe, it is now increasing in Australia and it is also increasing more quietly in the United States," news industry analyst Ken Doctor told BuzzFeed News. "We will see more pressure in the US in 2021, but very much in line with the same ideas we are seeing in Australia today."
THE estimated 33,000 US news industry workers have been laid off, laid off or cut pay amid the coronavirus pandemic, another blow to an industry that has been in decline since Craigslist ran free classified ads. (BuzzFeed employees cut wages.)
"News publishing was a financially weak business before COVID-19, and COVID-19 is crushing it," he said. "But it is doing this right at this time when people want and need content more than ever."
Although Facebook and Google have successfully defeated similar efforts by the French, Spanish and German governments over the past decade, they now face a potentially more sustained campaign to force them to pay news outlets for third-party content, which is the main engine of their advertising business.
In the United States, the News Media Alliance is pushing for changes in federal laws to allow publishers to negotiate collectively with technology giants, currently prohibited by antitrust laws. "We are pushing for this safe harbor law in Congress, which has good support, by the way, to allow publishers to negotiate collectively with platforms," said Chavern, a account written by Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline. "All of these things are coming to a similar end, that is, platforms will have to start returning value to the publication."
Amy Eisman, director of the Journalism Division at the American University, expressed reservations about the government's involvement in funding news, telling BuzzFeed News that this could lead to control of government coverage. Still, she said that some of her colleagues are now supporting national governments, helping news publishers receive more money, via taxes on technology companies or other methods. "I think there is a little more light on this idea than it was in the past," she said.
"Wherever we are with this, we have to find a way for journalists to get paid for the news now," said Eisman. "This is the most important moment for this."
Although Facebook and Google have announced, they will voluntarily pay hundreds of millions of dollars to news publishers through programs like Google News initiative and Journalism Project on Facebook, tech giants may seem indecisive when forced to pay for news.
While Facebook and Google tend to donate to news organizations when they are under political pressure, this support usually falls short of the amount needed to sustain the publishing sector. "It looks like a good amount of money," said Doctor. "But in terms of making a difference in the future to what local people see across the country, it's a drop in the bucket."
Google – which features news in 8% to 14% of your search results, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – did not respond to a request for comment. Meanwhile, Facebook shared dismay at Australia's plan.
"We are disappointed with the [Australian] government announcement, ”Will Easton, Facebook's managing director for Australia and New Zealand, told BuzzFeed News. “COVID-19 impacted all businesses and sectors in the country, including publishers, and that’s why we announced a new global investment to support news organizations at a time when advertising revenue is declining. "