‘News’ Is Under Attack — What the News Media Bargaining Code Means

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Today I want to talk to you about the ‘news’.

More specifically, I want to talk about the changes that Australians may soon see when it comes to getting their news.

Because as you may or may not know, digital news as we know it is under attack…

See back in April, the government reached out to the ACCC to develop a new ‘code of conduct’ for online news. A request that would formulate into what is now known as the ‘News media bargaining code’.

What is this code, and what is its purpose?

Well, here is the official definition from the ACCC:

On 20 April 2020, the Australian Government asked the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address the bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.

The draft code would allow news media businesses to bargain individually or collectively with Google and Facebook over payment for the inclusion of news on their services.

In other words, it is the government’s way of trying wrestle back some of the control from Google and Facebook. Forcing these two juggernauts of online news to pay our media outlets for the right to publish their content.

Needless to say, Google and Facebook were never going to agree to those terms without a fight…

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First, let me be clear.

This media bargaining code is a total farce. It is simply the media’s way of trying to cling to a business model that has become outdated in today’s day and age.

Our major flagships are all in terminal decline. Suffering major hits to revenue as advertising dollars flock to Google and Facebook over their papers and websites.

They simply aren’t willing to adapt or innovate to survive. And this code is a last-ditch effort to squeeze some more money out of the system before they likely disappear for good.

Granted, that doesn’t mean Google or Facebook are any better.

They are not some paragon of goodwill or benevolence. Rather, they were simply lucky enough to build two of the most popular digital platforms on the internet. Platforms that now dominate media distribution and sharing across the world.

So while they may not strictly be a publisher in a literal sense, they most certainly serve as the de facto publisher of almost all online content.

Most people, for better or worse, get their online news from these two tech giants. News that is sorted, ranked, and displayed upon the whims of their mystical algorithms.

This technology is supposed to make them an impartial source for news. Ensuring that we are all free to access whatever information we want.

That’s the entire point of being a news ‘aggregator’. The preferred classification that they’ve bestowed upon themselves.

As of this week though, Facebook at least has taken things a step further. Shedding any pretence of its news aggregation façade by threatening to censor our entire nation…

Facebook will apparently block all Australians from sharing any news if this the new code is passed.

Orwellian nightmare

Now, I don’t need to explain just how tyrannical this threat is from Facebook.

Censorship of any kind is almost always harmful to society. It is one of the most egregious forms eroding liberty throughout history.

And now we — as Australians — may be the latest victims of it.

Trouble is, it’s a tyrannical response to a tyrannical problem. Because as horrifying as the prospect of banning all news is, handing over control to the ‘media’ is just as terrifying.

Under the terms of this media bargaining, here are just some of the ‘minimum standards’ that will be enforced:

Providing advance notice of changes to algorithmic ranking and presentation of news.

Appropriately recognising original news content.

Providing information about how and when Google and Facebook make available user data collected through users’ interactions with news content.’

In simpler terms, this code would effectively give ‘the media’ the keys to the castle. Allowing them to front-run the news narrative. Picking and choosing stories that would align with Facebook and Google’s algorithms to rank higher on the front page.

Effectively, they will game the news.

And I say ‘they’, because this won’t be an industry-wide practice. There is not a chance in hell that Money Morning would get this kind of access, for example.

No, instead the local media beneficiaries will be handpicked by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). A government body that will have the full authority to choose who will and won’t be bestowed with this ridiculous benefit.

You’ll have to forgive my scepticism, but I can’t see that being any better than banning the news altogether…

Plus, when it comes to the stock market, I can’t even begin to imagine the ramifications.

It has been proven time and again that the media has a crucial impact on market movement. Shaping narratives that serve to influence trades and trading patterns.

If Facebook and Google ban news, then that will lead to a whole lot of market madness. Perhaps, even a surge in pricing inefficiency as people fail to grasp the full situation surrounding a stock.

Or, even worse, a select few media companies may get to set the entire agenda. Dictating what is and isn’t reported on, creating distortions in the market based on coverage.

You could even argue that is a partial reality of today’s media landscape.

But if this code passes, it could become far worse.

Where this all ends, I don’t know. It is however, deeply concerning.

We’re all caught in the crossfire of this very worrying media fight. And one way or another, I suspect the ‘news’ as we know it will never be the same again.


Ryan Clarkson-Ledward Signature

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward,
Editor, Money Morning

PS: Our publication Money Morning is a fantastic place to start on your investment journey. We talk about the big trends driving the most innovative stocks on the ASX. Learn all about it here.

About Ryan Clarkson-Ledward

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward is an Editor at Money Morning.

Ryan holds degrees in both communication and international business. He helps bring Money Morning readers the latest market updates, both locally and abroad. Ryan tackles all the issues investors need to know about that the mainstream media neglects.

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