Evidence of duopoly impact is insufficient, rules journalism inquiry

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 7 February 2018

Despite a lengthy investigation last year, the senate inquiry into public interest journalism has ruled there is insufficient evidence of Facebook and Google's impact on the local media sector.

In May last year the inquiry was formed to look into the current state of public interest journalism, what role the government should play in keeping it sustainable and to assess the impact of Facebook and Google on the sector.

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, News Corp CEO Michael Miller, professor Mark Ritson and other industry commentators all expressed concern over Google and Facebook's market power and its impact on the media sector.

“Firstly, the committee did not receive sufficient volume of evidence in these areas to reach any definitive conclusions," the report said, adding it will shirk responsibility to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the digital duopoly.

"Secondly, over the course of this inquiry, the government directed the ACCC to undertake an inquiry into aggregators and social media platforms, including Google and Facebook, and potential negative or unfair effects on consumers, media content creators-including journalists, and advertisers.

“The ACCC inquiry has broader terms of reference than this committee, as well as the resources, expertise and time to consider these matters in full, before it presents its final findings to government in mid-2019.”

The ACCC’s inquiry, announced in December 2017, will look at the impact that digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms are having on competition in media and advertising services markets.

In considering the idea of a levy on the duopoly, the committee  says it has become aware that both Google and Facebook have made adjustments to their accountancy practices, so that advertising booked by Australians will be accounted for in Australia.

Moreover, it says it's also aware that the potential use of transfer pricing by these and other businesses, to reduce the amount of tax payable in Australia, is the subject of other Senate inquiries, as well being the subject of examination by the ACCC.

"Given this, the committee is not in a position to make recommendations in relation to a levy at this time, but would make the comment that a levy may be a useful policy mechanism in the future, depending on the outcome of the other inquiries mentioned above, and on the continued efforts of large aggregators to cooperate with and assist news media and other content generators to remain viable," the findings noted.

The senate inquiry also recommended tax breaks for news media organisations and a review of harsh defamation laws.

During the inquiry, it heard evidence that more than 2,500 editorial jobs had been cut from media organisations in Australia since 2011, as well as significant cost cutting at the ABC and SBS.

In review of the community broadcasters’ role in delivering journalism, the inquiry recommended increasing funding for the ABC and SBS to support regional areas.

The report also recommends a review of Australian defamation laws and an audit of any “unjustifiably harsh or draconian laws” that make the reporting of national security and border protection difficult.

Click below to read the full report on aggregators and the news media:

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