The Winners And Losers From The Government’s Digital Platforms Inquiry Response

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After months of anticipation – and some fears of a potential delay – the government finally shared its response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry yesterday.

In many ways, the response left more questions than answers.

We do know Australia will have a new “platform-neutral regulatory framework” at some point in the future, but we still don’t really know what it will look like.

The cautious response has been labelled by some as a “let down”, while the Labor Party has called it ‘Groundhog Day’ and accused the government of not having its heart in it.

One group that is supportive of the government’s response is the ACCC.

An immediate response from the government is the establishment of the Digital Platforms Branch within the ACCC, which will give the watchdog increased power and scope to monitor these tech companies.

“The world is waking up to the very real harms that stem from the power the digital platforms hold in our society and for our economy,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said, following the announcement.

“The good news is it is not too late to ensure Australian businesses, consumers and society can benefit from the advances offered by digital platforms, while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to address the negative impacts.”

And with $27 million in funding over the next four years, the ACCC says it will use its new powers to “enable continuous and consistent scrutiny of digital platforms”, with the first priority an investigation into advertising technology and algorithms.

encouraging signs for publishers 

While the response as it stands now largely lacks teeth, there are some encouraging signs for traditional media players.

The government said yesterday it will immediately look to address “bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and news media businesses by asking the ACCC to work with the relevant parties to develop and implement voluntary codes to address these concerns”.

Such a code of conduct would monitor commercial arrangements and algorithm changes between tech companies and media businesses, meaning Google and Facebook could be made to pay for news content if such an agreement is made.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller did describe the voluntary approach as “out-of-kilter with leaders of other jurisdictions”.

As a voluntary code, stakeholders have until November next year to strike a deal. If a deal is not made, the government has indicated it will step in and introduce a mandatory code.

“Our investment in great local content will also be better supported by the proposed voluntary commercial bargaining Code of Conduct between digital platforms and media businesses,” said Free TV CEO Bridget Fair.

“Our members are committed to working with the digital platforms and the ACCC in putting these codes in place by November 2020.”

Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton said the tech giant will invest in “tools” to help create a more balanced news ecosystem.

“We support a sustainable news ecosystem which is why we work with publishers to help them reach new audiences and invest significantly in tools to provide transparency over the content people and publishers see on our services,” he said.

content quotas face scrutiny 

Another response will be a review into media rules and restrictions, which will specifically seek to remove “redundant” legislation.

Specifically, the development of  “a uniform classification framework across all media platforms”.

Content quotas currently apply to Australian broadcasters but not to streaming platforms.

Within the report, the government said it will look to assess whether or not there should be Australian content obligations on SVOD services, alongside other aspects of the policy framework as it applies to film and television.

Seven West Media CEO James Warburton welcomed the potential changes.

“Seven is particularly pleased by the announced process to swiftly address out of date Australian content requirements that are currently holding back Australian media businesses. We encourage the Government to move quickly to provide certainty to industry and put in place a new framework for content that better reflects commercial realities and the changed viewing patterns of Australian audiences.”

rejection of Copyright code

One of the ACCC’s recommendations the government has elected not to support is the is a mandatory ACMA take-down code to assist copyright enforcement on digital platforms.

The decision not to support the change was based on the “potential unintended effects of a code”.

“We are disappointed that the Government is not pursuing a mandatory take down scheme for copyright infringing material as recommended by the ACCC,” said Warburton.

However, the government has vowed to look into ways to reduce infringing material on digital platforms by reviewing copyright enforcement mechanisms.

The government updated copyright enforcement in 2018, but says time is still needed to ” for copyright owners to continue to enhance their relationships with digital platforms”.

Both Foxtel and Seven West Media supported this decision.

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