Scott Morrison shows no signs of blinking first in response to Google’s threat to remove its search engine from Australia because of the proposed media bargaining code.
“Microsoft’s pretty confident,” the prime minister told the National Press Club on Monday when asked if another search engine could fill the void left by Google.
Mr Morrison said he wanted a practical outcome that would ensure journalism is supported for a functioning democracy.
The planned code forces tech giants, namely Google and Facebook, to pay news companies for content or face hefty fines.
It’s designed to even out the playing field between the tech giants, propped up by huge advertising revenues, and news companies.
Google has threatened to pull its search engine from Australia if the code isn’t changed, arguing it would have no other choice due to the financial risk created by the impending law.
Facebook says it would have to remove news articles from user feeds.
The planned code is under the microscope on Monday at a Senate inquiry, where smaller publishers have expressed concerns over its current form.
Country Press Australia president Bruce Ellen says it rewards larger companies at the expense of smaller ones.
Country Press Australia represents more than 160 regional and local mastheads.
Their primary revenue comes from local businesses advertising, a market now dominated by technology companies.
Country Press wants the ABC and SBS excluded from the code, as they receive government funding and don’t need to charge consumers for content.
Star News Group’s managing director Paul Thomas said regional papers were struggling, pointing to News Corporation turning many of their rural mastheads into digital-only publications that syndicate stories from bigger newsrooms.
“If they had a golden egg there they would still be there wouldn’t they,” he said.
Solstice Media chairman Eric Beecher backed their concerns, saying bigger media companies benefited from the exposure and clicks afforded to them from Google and Facebook.
He argued for tech giants to pay both proper corporate tax and to support public interest journalism, as well as including a mechanism in the planned code to protect media diversity.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance urged senators to tweak the bill so it ensures money paid by tech giants goes towards journalism.
“The beneficiaries of the code must be journalism and the citizens who rely on it, not shareholders and senior executives,” the union’s Adam Portelli said.
Over the past decade the number of journalists in the country has been slashed by thousands and hundreds of newsrooms have closed.
The inquiry is due to report on February 12, with possible recommendations to the government on how to tweak the code.