News industry looks to reshuffle as Meta pulls cash

Mar 14, 2024 at 09:27 am by admin

Once again, the eyes of the world are on Australia as Meta challenges the federal government to activate the bargaining code that would force the tech giant to negotiate on the use of others’ news content.

As the Facebook owner is confirmed as a predictably unreliable and short-term income stream, former federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg – now chairman of Goldman Sachs Australia – is urging the Albanese government to weigh in directly. Frydenberg has reminded his contemporaries that he had held direct negotiations with Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai when the news media bargaining code was being framed and initial deals secured.

He is not alone in pointing to the “billion-dollar black hole” faced by public interest journalism as a result of the Meta decision.

Another former treasurer, Peter Costello – now chairman of newspaper publisher Nine Entertainment – told a business summit this week that Meta's decision was an “existential moment” for local media companies, and represented a loss of just under $70 million in annual revenue for Australian news media companies, putting reputable journalism at risk.

One impact may be Australian Community Media’s apparent decision to sell back to Nine, three of the mastheads it bought from the broadcaster. Nine’s Australian Financial Review has reported conversations over the sale of the Newcastle Herald, Illawarra Mercury and Canberra Times, and there’s clear logic in bringing the three metro-style publications back into the same cluster as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano – who owns the group with Alex Waislitz – has not commented.

Quotes have come instead from managing director Tony Kendall, who urged the government to respond to Meta’s “outrageous” decision by cancelling its advertising on the platform. “This is a hugely disappointing decision and a sad day for news and journalism in Australia,” he said.

“That the world’s largest social media company is no longer willing to pay its fair share for the quality Australian news and trusted information that lends its Facebook platform what is left of its credibility is, frankly, outrageous.”

Kendall said Meta’s move would significantly affect ACM’s business and “fuel the explosion of fake news and other junk proliferating on social media.

“We hope that Australians who want actual news in their so-called ‘newsfeed’ will seriously consider boycotting Facebook.”

Which has begged the question of how much of publishers’ news Meta is actually putting into Facebook news feeds… if you can find it.

Meta has claimed news now accounts for less than three per cent of what users see in their Facebook feed, but News Corp global chief executive Robert Thomson has labelled this figure “preposterous” and “obviously a fiction”.

In the UK, consultant David Buttle wrote in Press Gazette this week of the significance of the Australian move and “what it tells us about (Meta’s) broader position on news”, and pointed to the “unique” legislative environment and political dynamics for publisher-platform relations here, in which “political leaders were, in effect, negotiating on behalf of news outlets”.

Interestingly, Buttle says he believes final offer arbitration provided for by the Australian legislation is “a terrifying prospect” for Meta and Google, as if used, it risks setting a global precedent for content payments which could fundamentally change their cost bases.

Which would be something.

Peter Coleman

Sections: Digital business


or Register to post a comment