The Greens have signalled they could support a code to force Google and Facebook to pay for the value they receive from the distribution of Australian journalism if it is extended to cover the ABC, and if the Coalition comes up with a rescue package for the news wire service AAP.
Its communications spokeswoman, senator Sarah Hanson-Young, told Guardian Australia the Greens were reserving their position until they saw the Morrison government’s legislation but said: “If the government wants to save journalism in Australia, then they need to deliver more than a sugar hit to Murdoch.
“The code as it is is incomplete, and it needs to be fixed if it is to pass the parliament and save public interest journalism.
“The ABC is Australia’s most trusted news source and there is no excuse for locking them out of any arrangements that force the tech giants to pay their fair share.
“The ABC has been a punching bag of this government for too long. Fixing this code, including the public broadcasters and saving AAP, is what Australia’s news landscape requires.”
The signal comes as Facebook and Google have engaged in a major lobbying effort to persuade parliamentarians not to support the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) draft code for digital platforms.
The code aims to address the imbalance in bargaining power between the news media and tech giants and force the platforms to pay for the value they receive from use of Australian journalism.
It would also require Google and Facebook to provide media companies with information on changes that might affect their traffic, such as alterations to news rankings or the search algorithm. If they fail to comply, they could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.
The ACCC was asked to develop the mandatory code in April by the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, after negotiations between the digital platforms, the ACCC and media companies stalled, and media companies experienced a sharp fall in ad revenue due to Covid-19.
Google and Facebook say the code is unworkable.
The ABC and SBS are outside the proposed code.
The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, has signalled that is unlikely because the publicly funded broadcasters do not rely on advertising revenue. Fletcher has said the ABC and SBS “have secure government funding, and accordingly the ABC and SBS are not the policy focus when it comes to remuneration aspects of the proposed mandatory code”.
In signalling preparedness to negotiate on the code, Hanson-Young pointed to the importance of AAP in supporting independent journalism in Australia. AAP provides news copy and photographs to news outlets, which is an important service given major media players have all downsized because of ongoing threats to the viability of the industry.
In early August a slimmed-down AAP began its new life after the 85-year-old news wire was saved at the 11th hour by a team of 35 investors and philanthropists after major shareholders News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment pulled out.
But it remains under financial pressure and it is appealing to the public for help. AAP’s chief executive, Emma Cowdroy, has told Guardian Australia some clients have signed for “much shorter periods” as they may be “testing the service and they also know there is a new entrant coming into the market”.
“It’s probably fair to say that things have been a lot tougher than we thought,” Cowdroy said.