Government forces tech giants, media companies to sign NDAs

The federal government has forced executives from Google and Facebook and local media companies to sign strict confidentiality agreements as it finalises bitterly contested regulation to govern commercial relationships between internet giants and news publishers.

Multiple industry sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that key executives across Australia’s media companies and Google and Facebook were asked to sign non disclosure agreements (NDAs) in the past two weeks in exchange for access to the final version of the government’s “news media bargaining code”.

Google and Facebook are among those who have seen the final version of the code.
Google and Facebook are among those who have seen the final version of the code.Credit:Paul Rovere

The move to enforce NDAs on stakeholders appears designed to bring the hard fought negotations behind closed doors, with the government still hopeful it can reach an agreement that satisfies both parties and table legislation on the code to Parliament by the end of the year.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in April he hoped the code would be legislated soon after the release of the draft version in July. But fierce lobbying from tech companies in recent weeks has led the government to consider weakening some of the rules.

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The code was initially devised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission at the request of Treasury following a year long inquiry, and is designed to force the internet giants to pay publishers for news content.

Tech giants have fiercely opposed the draft version of the code, with Facebook declaring that it would be forced to ban news in Australia if it became law, and Google threatening to quit Australia altogether.

The search advertising giant is expected to reiterate its concerns about the code in a blog post tomorrow, but that it is also prepared to make concessions.

The draft version would give digital platforms three months to strike deals to pay news organisations for their content before they would be forced to enter a binding “final offer” negotiation process. In the “final offer” process, an arbitrator would select one of the negotiating parties’ proposals – whichever it deems more reasonable.

It also requires Google and Facebook to provide data to media companies and advance notice of changes to their algorithms. The tech giants have objected to these requirements as unfair and unworkable. The internet giants have also argued that the draft code does not take into account the value of the referral traffic they send publishers.

But media companies have been pushing the government to urgently legislate the code to fight the tech giants’ market power and are concerned it is being delayed to accommodate their demands.

If a final version of the code is agreed following the final, confidential consultations with Treasury, the code could reach parliament in the last two sitting weeks of the year. Treasury was approached for comment.

ACCC chair Rod Sims handed his final policy advice to government in late October. While he originally told this masthead there would only be minor changes to the final version, industry sources have said that it could now be substantially different.

Mr Sims did not rule out winding back the “final offer” arbitration process in comments in October.

Industry sources previously said the government had approached some publishers including News Corp Australia to assess whether they would be opposed to considering the value of referral traffic they receive from Google and Facebook when negotiating compensation payments.

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Source: Thanks smh.com