ACCC calls for comment on mandatory news media code

Regulatory watchdog releases concept paper to scope out the proposed mandatory code of conduct to address the imbalance between news media and digital platform providers

The ACCC has put the call out for submissions to its new mandatory code of conduct governing Australia’s news media and digital platforms, a move aimed at helping address the imbalance between traditional media companies and Google and Facebook.

The call comes less than a month after the Government directed the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct, a scheme replacing initial plans for a voluntary code created in partnership with digital platform providers.

The code itself is a response to the final report from the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, unveiled last July. At the time, the Government had indicated if an agreement was not forthcoming, it would develop alternative options to address concerns raised, including a mandatory code. The decision to pursue the latter comes in the wake of falling ad revenues and media outlets struggling due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, a situation that has seen many news media outlets stand down staff, close print and magazine titles and introduce reduced pay for employees. 

In its concepts paper released today, the regulatory watchdog requested comment on a mammoth 59 questions relating to a series of issues presented in the paper. These include what should be included in the draft bargaining code and the framework governing it; defining ‘news’ as well as digital platform products and services; how specific issues should be addressed, such as sharing user data, notification of algorithmic changes made by Google and Facebook, prioritising original news and recognising paywalls via these platforms and the treatment and control of advertising around news shown; and how the code should operate and be reviewed.

Submissions are due by 5 June 2020, in time for the Government’s request public consultation be sought before July. The final code is then expected shortly afterwards.

“We are keen to tap views on all the issues and ideas involved with this code. Given the tight timeframe we are seeking precise views on the content of the code and this concepts paper will facilitate this,” ACCC chair, Rod Sims, said in a statement.

“Our digital platforms inquiry highlighted the acute need to address the imbalance in bargaining position between news media and particular digital platforms, and that is what the code will do.”

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