Coalition to press ahead with Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill

3rd July 2024
New Zealand’s government is considering changes in the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, a legislation that would force certain tech giants to pay news organisations to share their content on their platforms.
RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone
Coalition to press ahead with Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill Credit: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

This press release was originally published by RNZ and is republished with permission.

The government is pressing on with legislation that will force tech giants to pay news organisations for their content.

Opposition parties are all voicing in-principle support for the bill.

The future of the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill had been uncertain, having been introduced by the former Labour government.

Former Media Minister Melissa Lee had previously said National did not support the bill in its current form, but after worsening economics for the industry led to Newshub’s closure and hefty staff cuts at TVNZ, she suggested it might be progressed with changes.

The coalition had been considering the legislation and Media and Communications Minister Paul Goldsmith on Tuesday confirmed it would progress, with amendments.

“I have looked closely at the design of the legislation and will be changing the approach to align more closely with the Australian digital bargaining code to give all companies greater certainty,” he said.

One of the key changes would be giving the minister the power to decide which digital platforms were covered by the bill.

“This will enable the minister to decide which digital platforms are captured by the bill, allowing the government to manage unintended consequences. We’ll also ensure an appropriate independent regulator is appointed as the Bill’s Authority,” Goldsmith said.

RNZ has sought clarification over whether “digital platforms” refers to the media companies, the tech giants, or both.

Read more: Australia & NZ confront big tech as media crisis grows

Goldsmith said he did not plan to take up the select committee’s recommendation to explicitly define artificial intelligence in the bill, as more work was needed before the government attempted to legislate around AI.

The minister said the government would also tweak eligibility criteria for the New Zealand Screen Production rebate, making the new threshold $10m per season for scripted series for local shows with a strong industry and cultural value, “like our longest-running drama Shortland Street”.

“The change is small but important, and corrects what I think is an anomaly in our screen production sector,” he said.

“You’ve got to think about the institutions that are important in terms of sustaining careers and developing careers and that show certainly over a long period of time has produced many great actors and also provided opportunities for people to do production and the whole suite of things.”

While the legislation underwent a review, one of the first changes would be to ease advertising restrictions for Sundays and public holidays, he said.

“The reality is all of the competitors of the local news producers are able to do advertising online at any point, so it’s kind of an unfair thing they have to deal with and that’s why we’re changing that.”

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Asked about how much revenue could be expected by making big tech companies pay, Goldsmith told Checkpoint: “There was talk of around $30 million possibly being at stake around the Google agreement, there’s possibly $6 million or so to be made out of the extra advertising revenue but it comes down to how the negotiations go.”

He acknowledged it was a “golden age of information” where media were facing increasing competition for revenue which was compounded by a difficult economy.

“The Fair Digital News bargaining Bill will not solve the fundamental challenges facing traditional media: it’s never been easier to share information online, but people don’t want the product on offer.” – David Seymour, Minister for Regulation of New Zealand

“We’re not going to be bailing out the media, but ultimately it’s for those businesses to figure out how to be sustainable and deal with very rapid change, but these four changes that we announced today will make some improvement and make it a bit easier for the locals to be keep going.”

He had also spoken to NZ On Air about the role it could play in supporting local news and current affairs, including sending letters encouraging the continued funding of the Local Democracy Reporting and Open Justice programmes.

Goldsmith said NZOA had committed to report back to Cabinet by the end of the year, by which time he expected all the short-term measures announced today would be in effect.

He said the government would also announce next steps on a wider reform programme later this year.

ACT ‘agrees to disagree’

The ACT Party has invoked the ‘agree to disagree’ provision in its coalition agreement with National and would not support the bill, meaning the government will need to rely on the support of other parties for it to pass.

But with all other parties in Parliament having voiced in-principle support, it seems very unlikely the bill would fail.

In a statement, leader David Seymour said the bill was “a sop”.

“The Fair Digital News bargaining Bill will not solve the fundamental challenges facing traditional media: it’s never been easier to share information online, but people don’t want the product on offer.”

The news industry has struggled with declining revenues for years, with classified advertising soaked up by new online services allowing direct sales and trade, while internet search giants and social media offer up headlines and links.

With the growth of the internet, some news sites also chose to offer news online for free – in some cases intended as a public good – but without the advertising revenue to back it up the newspapers and other mediums that had supported this kind of approach meant funding streams dried up.

Meanwhile, the more recent explosion of television streaming services has tanked the advertising market for terrestrial television, and associated TV news media.

Seymour said the media companies were claiming they needed the government to step in “because internet companies are exploiting them. In my experience, it’s not always clear who needs who the most. Media firms get traffic from Google and Meta, they can’t prove they’re not benefiting from the internet firms”.

He said the changes being made to the bill by the coalition were making it worse.

“The involvement of an elected Minister in deciding who ultimately gets what takes away one of the main benefits of the whole scheme: that it doesn’t involve politicians. ACT worries that a Bill aimed at subsidising traditional media could undermine the separation between political actors and journalists who are meant to be an independent voice in our democracy.”

“The reality is large multinational corporations like Google and Facebook benefit from local news, so they should pay their fair share.” Willie Jackson, Labour’s media spokesperson and former broadcasting minister

RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone
Coalition to press ahead with Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill - Credits: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone
Opposition parties voice in-principle support

With National’s 49 MPs and NZ First’s eight, only five additional votes would be needed for the bill to have a majority in Parliament.

This means even the smallest opposition party – Te Pāti Māori with its six MPs – could get the bill over the line.

Labour, the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori all said they supported the bill in principle.

Labour’s Media spokesperson Willie Jackson in a statement, said the party supported the bill’s intent, but wanted to see the details of the changes.

“I am relieved the government is seeing sense and progressing with legislation to make the media landscape fairer for news companies operating online. We will take the time to look at the government’s amendments, but support the intent of the Bill.”

“We’re looking at the amendments now. Given some of the behaviours of these digital companies, particularly overseas, it might not be too bad of a minister to have a … hands-on approach, just working closely, because we have had threats from these companies overseas and they have waged a bit of an attack on smaller companies, particularly in Canada.”

Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March – stepping in for the party’s Media spokesperson Huhana Lyndon, who is on a delegation overseas – said the Greens also supported it – but it would not be a silver bullet.

“It does provide really critical revenue sources for public media,” he said. “The reality is large multinational corporations like Google and Facebook benefit from local news, so they should pay their fair share.

He said it was no surprise ACT was not supportive, “when they time and time again have shown signs of wanting to have media run purely as commercial entities”.

He dismissed Seymour’s concerns about funding and independence, but said the Greens would prefer that – if the minister was to have decision-making powers – that it be over which multi-nationals were targeted.

“As usual we would want the governance of our public media entities to remain fully independent to ensure that they’re able to hold government to account … we cannot leave the survival of the fourth estate to the market, which is why governments should resource – where possible – public media entities so that we have a diversity of stories being told, and not pretend like there is no bias.”

He pointed towards the Local Democracy Reporting programme as an example where the public had benefited from government funding of media.

That project meant journalists were reserved in various newsrooms around the country for reporting on local councils and related issues.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said she had not seen the details of the legislation yet, but it was important to hold the multi-national tech companies to task and support local media.

With ACT invoking the agree to disagree clause less than a week after New Zealand First did, the government needed to show it could resolve its differences, she said.

“We’re going to have to see if this government and the coalition partners are up to really, truly resolving issues and they have got the cohesion and the relationship to really deal with things that really matter.”

Meta response

In a statement, Meta said “this Bill ignores the realities of how our platforms work, their voluntary nature, the preferences of the people who use them and the free value we provide news publishers. We will continue to be open and transparent with the government and publishers on our business decisions as this Bill progresses”.