news, federal-politics, Google, Facebook, media reforms, media bargaining code

The United States government has intervened as Australian MPs consider proposed laws that would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news. US officials told parliamentarians considering the bill that its reforms could lead to long term negative consequences for American and Australian companies. They urged the MPs to change the proposed reforms, which follow findings from the competition regulator that tech giants held a bargaining power advantage over news publishers. “The US government is concerned that an attempt, through legislation, to regulate the competitive positions of specific players in a fast-evolving digital market, to the clear detriment of two US firms, may result in harmful outcomes,” they said. Their intervention follows efforts from Google and Facebook to pressure the federal government into backing down on the proposals. US trade representatives Daniel Bahar and Karl Ehlers wrote to parliamentarians ahead of a scheduled hearing on Friday about the proposals that would create a mandatory code forcing tech companies to pay for news content on their platforms. “Given the United States’ significant outstanding concerns, we urge Australia not to rush the passage of this legislative proposal,” the US officials said. They said the laws gave the government broad discretion to decide what companies to subject to the “highly prescriptive and burdensome” new rules. The rules targeted Google and Facebook and would apply to companies without establishing a violation of law or a market failure, the officials said. While the code would account for the benefit news businesses gained in being carried on Google and Facebook, it remained unbalanced in favour of publishers, their submission said. The code should address the costs to the tech giants in storing, processing and transmitting news content, and in developing software to index and rank it, it said. US government officials have weighed into the deliberations of Australian MPs after criticising the proposed mandatory bargaining code in a submission to the nation’s competition regulator. The US called the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s proposed mandatory bargaining code of conduct “an unusual and highly intrusive intervention in the commercial arrangements between specific participants in the digital marketplace”. Its submission to the regulator asked the government to suspend its proposal and allow more time to develop a voluntary code. Tech giants Google and Facebook have spoken directly to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about their concerns with the proposed rules. The federal government has vowed it won’t be bullied by tech giant Facebook after the company threatened in September to stop Australians sharing local news articles. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Morrison government would not bow to “coercion”.

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