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In Australia vs. Google, independent journalism loses

The Australian government is taking on Google. At least, that is how most British outlets have been covering the tech giant’s opposition of the recent controversial legislation, which would see companies like Google and Facebook negotiating deals with news media companies before they can use their content. If negotiation grew stale, then a government-approved independent arbiter would be brought in to determine the value of the outlet’s content.


Google responded by threatening to remove their search engine from Australia completely, while Facebook claimed they would only remove users’ ability to share articles.

So what is scaring these trillion-dollar businesses to the point they are willing to remove or highly reduce their services to over 25 million people? While Google has been striking deals with media companies for a long time, they have always had the upper hand in negotiations. Introducing a government-appointed arbiter to determine a final cost for Google to pay has the opportunity to balance the scale in favour of media corporations. It remains unclear exactly how these arbiters will be chosen or how they will determine the value of a company’s content.


It might be tempting initially to see this as a David and Goliath story, but a deeper look reveals that there are no heroes to root for here.


The idea of defending journalism from the grasps of Google’s online monopoly is commendable, but what kind of journalism stands to win from this? In our minds, as consumers, we imagine this as a win for independent and investigative journalism. The kind of high quality work that often requires a ridiculous amount of dedication for a relatively nonexistent monetary reward. However, these very same independent outlets have raised their own concerns over the new legislation.


We can all agree that Google and Facebook have too much powe,r but regdardless of how they react to this new status quo, small news outlets are those likeliest to pay the consequences. If Google and Facebook abandon the Australian market, newspapers with a strong brand and large print reach will be the likeliest to survive. On the other hand, those progressive outlets you followed on Instagram? Gone, just like most quality investigative projects that relied on viral social media spread. If they do cave in to new legislation, they still hold power over smaller media companies that rely on social media coverage. Most importantly, it is still to be seen to what extent a third-party arbiter will benefit these independent journalists. The only group certain to benefit from this are established media conglomerates.


When asking Jenn, an Australian alumna, about her opinion on the story I noticed a similar rejection of the ‘fight against big tech’ narrative.
“I’m not sure who is more arrogant, irritating and determined to screw over the Australian population, Google or Scott Morrison. At least Google didn’t fuck off to Hawaii when half our country was on fire. And you know how I know that? I googled it.”


And so in comes a third party we shouldn’t necessarily be routing for, the Australian government. While it is easy to take the position of the stoic hero when battling one of the largest organisations in the world, the power of Rupert Murdoch owned conglomerates on the country’s politics is an open secret. In proposing this legislation, the current government gets to portray itself as radical without upsetting more local corporate interests.
The Australian government could prove to be an important case study in how established political and corporate powers use our legitimate fear of large monopolies to screw over competitors and establish their own monopoly. In this case, the enemy of your enemy might not be your friend.

Image: Alice Spaccasassi

By Alice Spaccasassi

Science and technology editor at The Student.