Laura Jayes: Andrew Bragg is a Liberal Senator now and chair of the committee that looked into the power of Facebook and Google in this country. Andrew Bragg, thanks so much for your time. Are you surprised by these pretty heavy handed responses from Facebook?
Andrew Bragg: Well, not really, Laura, because throughout the Senate committee process, I have to say, Facebook didn't exactly cover itself in glory. I mean, they effectively said that news was of no value to them. They weren't doing a whole lot to deal with misinformation on their platform. And so today's announcement, I think, will leave Facebook as a platform where there's no real news but plenty of fake news.
Laura Jayes: What happened here? Because earlier this week, Josh Frydenberg and Paul Fletcher both indicated that they were making progress with Facebook and they believed that commercial deals were in the works, not just with Google, but with Facebook. So something happened along the way. What's collapsed?
Andrew Bragg: Well, the media bargaining code, I think, has been very successful already in getting Google to do deals with Nine and News Limited and that means there will be payment for public interest journalism in Australia. And don't forget that Google was the main aim of these laws because they have about half of the advertising market. Facebook is a smaller player and their judgement is up to them to have to explain. I think but the code overall has already yielded these other deals by bringing the parties to the table.
Laura Jayes: Yeah, and you're right, Facebook does still cover, though, twenty five percent of the market. Josh Frydenberg tweeting this morning, quote unquote, "There's a few remaining issues with the government's news media bargaining code, and we agreed to continue our conversation". What are the biggest hurdles for Facebook?
Andrew Bragg: Well, I don't think Facebook like our laws, but the reality is Australia will make laws for Australia. Other organisations like Facebook, including Google, have been able to make deals underneath our laws. And so we're not going to be bullied...
Laura Jayes: No...
Andrew Bragg: People can get news from sources,.
Laura Jayes: Specific examples that you can point to in the media code that Facebook has raised.
Andrew Bragg: Well, they don't like the idea of compulsory arbitration, they don't want to be subject to that law, and that is too bad. I mean, that's a law that we've decided that is necessary in order to ensure that journalism is paid for. I mean, you don't just go into a supermarket and steal a can of fruit, which effectively is what the platforms do when they take journalism and give it away for free. So there are many other avenues for Australians to access news. I mean, Mr Chalmers said that people wouldn't be able to get news, which is ridiculous. We spend a billion dollars a year on the ABC alone to ensure that people can get access to journalism.
Laura Jayes: As you said, Facebook is being a bully, but will you capitulate?
Andrew Bragg: Well, clearly not, I mean, the legislation is before the House of Representatives, I imagine it will be passed today or next week, then it will come to the Senate and that will be the law, and then the treasurer will designate Facebook in due course. So, I mean, I don't think we're going to have any changes of our plans. And what Facebook does is a matter for them.
Laura Jayes: What do you make of what Facebook has done this morning? Overnight while we're all sleeping and we're waking up to this. But it's not just news organisations. I've learnt in the last half an hour that it's government bodies as well, the Bureau of Meteorology.
Andrew Bragg: Well, people don't have to use Facebook as a platform. I mean, there are other platforms people can use. People can use direct apps and sites to access news and information. I mean, that is not a difficult concept for people to come to terms with. So at the end of the day, news is widely available through the private sector journalism and also through the ABC. And the reality is these organisations, big tech companies are like utilities, but they have a very low regulatory burden. So where we have decided that there should be more regulation, we will pursue that because they are very lightly regulated compared to a bank or telecommunications company or an energy provider.
Laura Jayes: What's in your arsenal now, Andrew Bragg? Would you encourage Australian businesses not to advertise on Facebook?
Andrew Bragg: I don't think it would be appropriate to get into those sort of commercial matters, but what I would say is that Facebook, Rio Tinto, whatever company it is, needs to, you know, take their duty as a corporate very seriously. I have to say that my longstanding concern with Facebook has been that they are hosting material on their platform, which is either inciting violence, in some cases or is defamatory. So I think they are platforms. They need to tidy up their own shop and we won't be changing our position.
Laura Jayes: Does the government advertise on Facebook?
Andrew Bragg: I would say that we probably would through various agencies, but there are a range of platforms that we can use, including our own website, to communicate to people.
Laura Jayes: Should you pull it?
Andrew Bragg: Well, that's a matter for each agency. I'm not getting into these sort of commercial blackmail areas...
Laura Jayes: But can I ask you about... I mean, the real risk here, isn't it, is that Government advertising could be attached to fake news?
Andrew Bragg: Well, I think the issue with a loss of real news on Facebook will be, as you say, that much of the material on Facebook will be fake news. Now, if the government is advertising on the news feed credible information, I guess that can only help Facebook.
Laura Jayes: Hmm. Yeah, I guess so. And you mentioned the fake news issue. it's amazing that we wake up this morning and Facebook has been able to pull this news from Australian organisations. We can't access it, but it has pleaded in the past that it can't or is not willing to do anything about fake news?
Andrew Bragg: Well, it's just not true when they argue that they're not publishers, I mean, I think that big tech platforms are quite like newspapers in that they get to decide who they publish and they present curated content to the users. Now, by de-platforming Donald Trump and taking Craig Kelly off, for example, they are just underlining that the fact that they are publishers. So the trend over the coming decade is going to be more regulation in this space because these organisations are so powerful, they are effectively utilities.
Laura Jayes: And how should Australians view Facebook this morning? How do you feel about them?
Andrew Bragg: Well, I think that they performed poorly at a Senate enquiry, and I think similarly, I think Rio Tinto performed very poorly when they destroyed Juukan Gorge. And I think there are some parallels there. But the reality is, if Australians want to access news, they can go to the ABC, they can go to the Guardian, they can go to Sky, they can go to News.com.au. You there'll be plenty of information available to Australians about what's happening in the world, and that's what people should do.
Laura Jayes: Andrew Bragg, thanks so much for your time.
MEDIA | John Mangos | 0401 392 624