On Tuesday, around 25 small and independent publishers in Australia are implementing a “news freeze” to highlight the unfair treatment at the hands of global social media giants Facebook and Google.
The campaign, dubbed WaitingonZuck, is the result of the failures of the news media bargaining code, which has seen tens of millions of dollars being handed out by Facebook and Google to a handful of media giants, and selected other publishers.
The likes of RenewEconomy and many other small and regional publications have so far been excluded, ostensibly because we do not cover what the social media giants consider to be “public interest journalism”.
Of course, RenewEconomy is covering two of the most important issues of our time – climate change and the energy transition, because the mainstream media has largely ignored it, or refused to go into the detail. RenewEconomy is accessed by more than half a million unique visitors a month. Its content remains free.
But if you are reporting on the sexual exploits of famous sports people, which seems to be the main course of web sites like Junkee, then apparently that qualifies as “public interest journalism”.
The mainstream media have largely shut up about the failures of the news bargaining code, possibly because their loyalty has been bought by the social media giants.
But the tens of millions of dollars that they have received – we don’t know the exact numbers because they are confidential – are allowing them to attack and overwhelm smaller publishers.
They openly boast that their expansion projects – which puts them in direct competition and threatens the future of many small industry players – are funded by the social media giants. This is one of the greatest attacks on media diversity seen in Australia, and all with the complicity of the big media companies.
As the WaitingonZuck campaign notes: Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has failed to come to the table, “making secret deals that exacerbate the massive competitive disadvantage, badly impacting the ‘little guys’ of this vital industry – our small and medium news businesses.”
It calls on treasurer Josh Frydenberg to “designate” the social media giants, to force them to the table to correct this massive imbalance.
“The purpose of the Media Bargaining Code was to support public interest journalism,” says Karen Mahlab founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. “I don’t believe its purpose is being met when small to medium sized publications who represent a huge diversity of opinions and views are left out of the equation.”
RenewEconomy will not be implementing a complete news freeze on Tuesday, because our circumstances don’t allow for that. But we will be publishing only the bare minimum of stories between 0001 and 2359 AEDT on Tuesday, March 22.
You may have noticed that there’s no news today. That’s because we are all waiting on Mark Zuckerberg.
Publishers from right across Australia have frozen their news feeds for the day because we are #WaitingOnZuck to pay up for the journalism that his businesses have been benefiting from for free.
Thanks for trying to disrupt the massive power imbalance between digital platforms and news media businesses. The Code was a great start, but Zuck has failed to come to the table, only making secret deals that exacerbate the massive competitive disadvantage, badly impacting the ‘little guys’ of this vital industry – our small and medium publishers.
These are the publishers who deliver me not only news and information, but they form part of the backbone of my community by sharing the stories that help us to feel seen, heard and represented in Australia.
We’re glad that 12 months on, we have an opportunity to improve the impact of the Code together. If digital platforms don’t come to the table to negotiate with small and medium publishers they must be designated.