Addressing ‘gaping inequalities’; industry responds to ACCC report

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 11 December 2018
Tim Worner

Hot on the heels of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission's (ACCC) initial findings of the Digital Platforms Inquiry, industry feedback has flooded in thick and fast.

While Google and Facebook have kept responses short and sweet, leaders from traditional media businesses, who have been dramatically impacted by the rise of tech giants such as Google and Facebook, have spoken passionately about the hefty 378-page report which landed yesterday.

The report, with the full version expected in June next year, outlines the ACCC’s concerns regarding the market power held by these major platforms, including their impact on Australian businesses.

The initial findings, the first of its kind in the world, features 11 preliminary recommendation areas followed by the nine proposed areas for further analysis and assessment.

CEO of Seven West Media Tim Worner was quick to congratulate the ACCC for its “comprehensive and thorough review”.

“We are encouraged by its preliminary findings and initial recommendations, which recognise the substantial market power of Google and Facebook and the ways in which this has harmed the local media and advertising industry,” Worner said.

“We particularly welcome the ACCC’s recognition of the need to address regulatory imbalance between digital platforms and other Australian content and local media businesses.”

The first step of many

Worner said while the preliminary report is focused on news and journalistic content, Seven West Media notes that Google and Facebook also have a large impact on producers of all Australian content.

“We hope this preliminary report is a first step towards taking real action to address the effect they have on all Australian businesses and consumers,” Worner added.

“This won’t be the last time these companies are looked at, and that’s the way it should be.”

A Nine spokesperson also welcomes the preliminary report.

“We are pleased the ACCC has taken this issue raised by Nine and other media organisations very seriously,” a spokesperson said.

“The report suggests some promising and real solutions that are encouraging. We will now review the report in detail with a view to a more detailed response.”

See: Digital Platforms Inquiry: Top 20 must knows

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said the report “could be a game changer” for Australian media businesses as well as Australian consumers and it welcomes the first step in addressing the “complex ramifications arising from the market dominance of Google and Facebook”.

“It is the first time an Australian regulator has called out the substantial market power held by Google and Facebook in the areas of online search, digital advertising and access to news content,” she said.

“We are particularly pleased to see that the ACCC has recognised that traditional media companies operate under heavy regulatory frameworks compared with almost none on Facebook and Google.

Fair said the need for better takedown procedures for copyright infringement, lack of transparency around algorithms and the potential for Google and Facebook to favour related businesses in advertising markets have also “rightly been called out” as priority areas for regulatory intervention.

Despite the comments so far companies are still wading through the lengthy report in order to shape more detailed views and garner further feedback for the ACCC, which it is seeking by 15 February.

A spokesperson from Facebook said: “We received the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's preliminary report and we are currently reviewing their analysis and recommendations in more detail.

“As we have done over the past 12 months, we remain committed to working with the Commission as they review the contribution of all digital platforms in Australia.”

A Google spokesperson echoed sentiments, saying: “As we put forward in our submission, we develop innovative products to the benefit of consumers, businesses and the economy, and we work closely with advertisers and publishers across Australia.

“We will continue to engage with the ACCC between now and the final report next year.”

Radio addresses ‘gaping inequalities’

CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, Joan Warner, said the peak industry body is pleased the ACCC’s preliminary report has found that action is needed to address the “gaping inequalities” that exist between regulations applying to radio broadcasters and digital platforms.”

“Commercial radio is subject to numerous regulations including, but not limited to, local content, Australian music quotas and advertising restrictions, while online platforms have few or no restrictions,” Warner explained.

“For instance, broadcasters will be subject to an election advertising blackout ahead of next year’s federal election, which will result in ad dollars being diverted to digital platforms.
“We are pleased the ACCC has acknowledged there is inconsistency and that action needs to be taken to provide a fairer regulatory framework.”

CRA also welcomed recommendations for the development of a take-down standard to ensure digital platforms remove copyright infringing material in a timely way and for the further review of the measurement of ads served on digital platforms.

“Unlike radio, there is no independent third-party methodology for measuring digital impressions, which can lead to misleading claims regarding the advertising reach of digital platforms,” she said.

“We would like to see a robust and transparent audience measurement system for digital platforms, so that advertisers and consumers are not misled.”

Peter Miller, CEO at NewsMediaWorks, said there are several recommendations in the preliminary report that go to evening up the landscape, such as the strengthening of requirements around the collection and use of personal information – which he previously describes as “a shambles”.

“Closer scrutiny of the market power and practices of the platforms can only be a good thing for the originators of authentic and diverse news and journalism which is vital to civic society,” Miller said.
“NewsMediaWorks represents publishers striving in a substantially regulated sector, against competitors that operate free of many constraints. Regulatory imbalance obtains, and this is unfair at best. That said, we would need to see the fine print around the establishment of a ‘regulatory authority’ before leaping for joy.”

Miller said if the platforms stepped up to the crease with “real proposals”, such as a code of practice with transparent review processes that protected advertisers, consumers and the originators of authentic news content, that would reduce the proposed scope and burden of the regulator.

Want more? See:

Details emerge of ACCC's crackdown on tech giants

Digital Platforms Inquiry: Top 20 must knows

ACCC confirms ‘misuse of market power’ investigations into tech giants

ACCC inquiry: Here's what media groups submitted to digital platforms inquiry


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