NOT Left or Right, Seriously NOT ALP, LIB or Green. Just a Punter... more

03 Feb 2021

Serious potential collateral damage from Australian government doing News Corp and NineFax a solid ☹

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ACCC has decided to slay the big tech giant! As in Google and Facebook. Only those two, not Apple, Youtube, Instagram, or any other search engines. Just those two and supposedly it is to save “public interest journalism”. Sounds great. I’m no fan of monopolies, be they in tech, fuel, food, OR MEDIA and ACCC is supposed to protect Australians from predatory monopolistic behaviour. Sadly, this is not it.

It would appear that the ACCC is giving the Government ammo to manipulate the free market. Yep, the party of “free market” is not such a fan when it harms their very loud media mouthpieces.

Officially this is called the: Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020

Monopolies and Market Dominance – Satan vs Satan

For most of us that work in IT, we would be happy to see Google cut down to size, just as we would also like Microsoft to be cut down to size, and thankfully they have at least lost some of their monopoly in the last decade. Though… that could change if they become the next monolith in Australia, which is likely if Google bail with their search here.

On the other hand, sick to death of the dominance of News Corp in media as well. For some areas in Australia, your only choice of newspaper can be a News Corp – one choice is never good for the public - and they can be very damaging, between the papers and Sky News they are too often divisive and damn near the marketing arm of the Liberal National Party. With Sky now on the WIN ‘free to air” network in regional areas that dominance has spread even further.

This is not the first time that Australian born, now US citizen, media mogul Mr Murdoch has cried “Google is stealing our content”. He started this over a decade ago as far as I can ascertain. Back in those days he even tried to do a deal with Bing to take on Google and supposedly save the newspaper industry. I am not going to bother elaborating much further on News Corp as most Australians are pretty much aware of this companies impact on our media landscape here.

The next biggest player in the media market is Liberal donor, and host of Liberal fundraisers, Nine Entertainment Co. who took over the Fairfax network in recent years. So yeah… a very different beast nowadays with Peter Costello, Liberal heavyweight and former Treasurer, as head honcho and not the same "Independence" they used to have. I refer to them as NineFax for short to distinguish between the TV network and the papers.

Interesting how media desperately want “regulation” over “big tech” when there is little regulation over media, and in fact, we don’t even have “truth in media” laws ☹

All about the Advertising

There is no denying that traditional media have lost a lot of their traditional advertisers, classified, car sales, real estate, and employment ads which obviously make it difficult to produce news when you don’t have that same level of advertising and have to rely on subscriptions alone. Though I note, that many others not as large as News Corp and NineFax seem to doing ok, like The Guardian and Crikey just to name two.

I note that in trying to get these advertising dollars that have been supposedly stolen from them by ‘big tech’, they are not taking on carsales or SEEK to recoup the car sales & employment advertising?

Also, notice they are not taking on RealEstate.com.au or Domain.com.au who are the biggest Real Estate advertisers online either to recoup those sales? I wonder why?

No, I don’t, I know exactly why. Both News Corp and NineFax already have a massive footprint in that area and is probably what is propping up their newspapers here in Australia to a degree.

Top 4 real estate sites in Australia :

  1. RealEstate - REA Group (News Corp)
  2. Domain - Fairfax Digital (NineFax)
  3. Flatmates - REA Group (News Corp)
  4. Allhomes - Fairfax Digital (NineFax)

Maybe other News orgs should be hitting up REA & Domain for a cut of advertising to make up for their Real Estate advertising losses? #JustSaying 😉

There is a lot more I could add to this aspect of the machinations behind the code, but suffice to say, if this code is supposed to save “public interest journalism”, it seems to me to be more about improving News Corp and NineFax advertising revenue?

What even is Public Interest Journalism?

Just about the only thing I agree with in this code is that “public interest journalism” is important, particularly in a democracy. The Investigations undertaken that expose crime or corruption, to the detailed reporting of natural disasters and emergencies, really does matter. Though sadly, a lot of that is not the main thrust of too many newsrooms around the nation nowadays. Of course, many point to lack of funding which is frequently the case, often it is also just too many opinions presented as news or clickbait, to get those impressions to sell advertising.

In fact, if public interest journalism really was the main reason for this mandatory code, then ABC & SBS who probably do more than any other media org in this nation, would NOT have been left out of the code. Yep, the original draft left ABC & SBS out of running in getting any of that sweet money Australian media hope to score off Google and Facebook. Though after agitation they have been included in the most recent mandatory version of the code.

It gets better though… the AAP is still not included.

AAP (Australian Associated Press) are considered a wholesaler, not a publisher, therefore are carved out of the code. Considering the lack of news staff around the nation and AAP always filling those gaps with their important ‘opinion’ free reporting, they more than most need financial support to continue with public interest journalism which is pretty much all they do.

As a side note, AAP is on life support after nearly being killed off by *drum roll please* News Corp and Nine who were previously former shareholders (and users) of AAP SIGH!

So yeah... I don’t buy the public interest argument at all. AAP not included and very small Indy publications (linked document supplied by @deniseshrivell) many of these who most likely will not be included, it is rather vague as to who will be recognised as publishers by this code, apart from the big media orgs that is. So I call bullshit on the public interest argument.

So what if Google search bails from Australia?

Google flat out told the Senate last week they would not agree to the mandatory code as it stands. There are many reasons why both Google and Facebook won’t agree to the code, a pretty good explainer is here “The arguments against the news media bargaining code and what happens next” with other aspects of why Google & Facebook don't like this code that I'm not going to get into in this piece.

Facebook has said they will just not show news links if the code goes through, hence why I am not really paying much attention to them here, as my core interest is small business and collateral damage and that won’t really affect small business at all.

That is not to say Facebook does not worry me. It does, big time! Besides how odious it can be with all the fake news (I mean, c’mon, there is a reason why Facebook is the social media of choice for the likes of Conspiracy Craig, the Member for Manila and Pete Evans types) my bigger concern is so many in small business have been groomed to rely on Facebook for their marketing to the extent that many don’t even have their own website. This leaves them at the whim of any Facebook changes, potential charges in future etc. akin to just rocking up and opening up your shop in a free park and hoping it stays the same forever instead of being in a solid shop you know can open up every day regardless of the weather? Anyhow, that is a rant for another day. My main focus here is Google.

I don’t buy into the whole “will break the internet” line from Google, but, I do worry about the impact on small business.

Particularly impact on small business in Australia if Google bails on search. I don’t mean the governments version of small business (which is larger) but those hundreds of thousands of small businesses who don’t get all the government grants, the sole operators, the beauty salon with the owner and one other staff working, or the small shop with 3 staff. Many of them rely on Google referrals.

If small business in Australia had a snippet of what services/goods they sell, including link to their website, placed prominently in Google and for FREE! Like media do, they would be stoked! In fact, if you do a news search, like say "WA bushfires" only news items and official advice (government) sites come up, no advertising on search page at all, so no money being made there from advertising, yet if you do a search for a business like "WA Florists" there is a heap of advertising on the page, so as a small business you are paying to try to get your name higher to come up under that search engine AND also competing with other paid searches. From my point of view, big news organisations already have a super sweet deal via Google search.

Alas, small business pays for any sort of prominence in google, it can be anything from a couple of hundred bucks a month to thousands. Contrary to what is regularly flogged by the government, the economy was not too flash even prior to COVID-19, and these small businesses have struggled and many only surviving because of the online business they received, the vast majority of those referrals would have come from Google.

There is no argument that Google is the most dominant search engine in the nation.

December 2020 gs.statcounter.com Australian Search engine market share:

  • Google 94.7%
  • Bing 3.74%
  • DuckDuckGo .79%
  • Yahoo .73%
  • Ecosia .20%
  • Nortons Safe Search .04%

Those figures above matter. I spoke to half a dozen small business SEO specialists (SEO: Search Engine Optimisation - increase a websites visibility in search engines) and SEM specialists (SEM: Search Engine Marketing - promoting website & their visibility in search engines via "paid" advertising). As most small business don’t organise these ads in search engines themselves, nor even organise to improve their rankings if they are not coming up on the first page organically (as in didn’t pay for it), they use SEO & SEM experts to do this for them. And… they need to if they want that extra business.

How much small business pays for these services is pretty much how long is a piece of string? It depends on how many hours your SEO/SEM specialist spends on your site, key words or phrases they advertise and how much is spent on those ads. It can be anywhere between the odd cheap campaign or up to thousands a month to ensure they are prominent and getting traffic to their website.

Not only do these campaigns cost money to set up, by paying the SEO/SEM expert and the monthly advertising, but it takes time, it can be anywhere from 3 months to 6 months to see your traffic increase, sometimes longer if you are in a competitive market. That is a big investment many small businesses have made in getting those search engine referrals and improving their business viability.

For those unfamiliar with this SEO search engine referrals scenario, those referrals are akin to foot traffic walking through the door of a business.

If Google search bails how many businesses do you think (taking into account the current economy and what small business has suffered already in the past few years) many can survive with next to no foot traffic for any period of time?

Google ad contracts are monthly and of course, being a monolith, all in their favour. So there would be very little notice if they decide to pull search from Australia. I will remind you, they are 94.7% of the search market so they have the bulk of Australian small businesses advertising with them and relying on referrals from them. So it won’t be a nice orderly withdrawal of search in Australia, it will be short and sharp most likely.

All of a sudden waking up to next to no business referrals would be devastating, there is no two ways about it.

Out of the half a dozen SEO/SEM types I spoke to, only one had started to spread their clients advertising dollars out to Bing and DuckDuckGo to diversify a tad. Interesting to note that even when organising the DuckDuckGo advertising that goes via Bing’s network UGH!

The Prime Minister might be happy to tell people Google bailing is not a problem just use Bing – WOOHOO! Rupert Murdoch finally would get his deal with Bing to destroy Google like he wanted, over a decade later, and Microsoft have already been swooping in and discussing with the Australian Government as to how they can save the day 🙄

That is all and good, it is not like we will be without a search engine in Australia, but…

  • How many small business can survive if they lose most of their link referrals all of a sudden?
  • How many small businesses can survive 3 to 6 months while they rebuild their campaigns in a new search engine?
  • How many small business can afford to spend the amount of money it will require to set up a new advertising campaign with new search engines?

This very serious collateral damage does not seem to be discussed at all in the rush to introduce this legislation?

We already have terrible unemployment figures in this nation, so Government doesn’t care about tossing a heap more on social security, all to supposedly help save ‘public interest journalism’?

Not to mention, even once small business survives this so-called disruption, I would call it trauma, will Bing have to also sign the same mandatory code? I strongly suspect after all that drama they will just do a deal with government and not even be subject to the same onerous legislation.

And… we just end up replacing one monolith, Google, with another monolith, Bing AKA Microsoft. YAY!

Rod Sims slayed the Google dragon, I am sure that will comfort those small business people who suffer as collateral damage, NOT!

Look! I also want more variety in search and would prefer Google did not have as much power. I also want more public interest journalism, Dog knows we need it. But even during the Senate hearing last week when the big boys turned up to tell the Senators how evil Google and Facebook were, only Guardian, ABC and SBS committed to employing more journalists if they scored funds via this code. As I state above AAP and smaller players are not even included.

So the damage this bill could inflict is probably not even going to improve the situation it was supposed to fix, that being public interest journalism.

Many refer to the little tax Google & Facebook pay, and yeah, they don’t pay much at all, though neither does News Corp, hell we paid them a few years ago (not to mention dodgy grants they get from government), but surely it would make more sense for the Government to just close the loopholes at the ATO so they do ALL pay their fair share of tax – this would also help with all the other big multinationals that pay next to no tax too.

We know the government doesn’t like to hit big business mates, so they could at least just put on a special ‘public interest journalism’ levy on big tech? That would score funds to support journalism, would be more legit if run by an Independent body of Government that handed out grants for public interest journalism projects and would help the smaller media players too?

Then again, that would be simple wouldn’t it? And… might actually help public interest journalism, which I strongly suspect is not actually the aim of this legislation at all.

Sadly, looking at Senators questions in recent hearings, very little attention has been paid to ‘unintended consequences’ and even the Greens seem to support this Bill, so will most likely fly through both the lower and upper house. I would say the only delay to implementing the legislation would be if PM Scott Morrison decides to have an election later this year and thinks he might be in trouble electorally so might delay to hold over the heads of News Corp & NineFax to ensure the continuation of the most excellent reporting he currently enjoys? Who knows? Maybe that is me just being a cynical old hag ☹

The only real winners out of this Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 will be likes of News Corp & NineFax and of course Bing who will most likely take the Google monopoly crown and sadly, as usual, the little people like small business and small media types will be collateral damage. And… the Australian public probably won’t even get any increased public interest journalism after all.

If you are the sort who can’t stand Google, just pause and have a think, there are better ways to slay the dragon with fewer unintended consequences. Public Interest Journalism is really important and I wish there was more of it, sadly, I highly doubt the Australian governments attempts to slay the Google and Facebook dragons are going to improve Australians access to it, more likely a lot of small business collateral damage with very little to show for it except Bing replacing Google as the search Dragon.

by Noely
Talks too much on Twitter
Professional desk jockey
@YaThinkN

PS. Maybe hit up your local MPs about truth in media laws too when you are calling for a Federal ICAC, we need them!

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