Matthew Miller
May 4, 2018

Media companies speak out on duopoly practices in Australian inquiry

As companies submit opinions in Australia's government inquiry, News Corp leads the charge in a fiery brief calling out online platforms for anti-competitive practices.

Media companies speak out on duopoly practices in Australian inquiry

The Australian watchdog group looking into whether the power held by online platforms harms consumers (see "Australian watchdog opens Facebook, Google market-power inquiry") has received nearly 60 submissions from publishers, brands and associations, it announced yesterday.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is looking into “whether platforms are exercising market power in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators and advertisers”. The ACCC specifically named the Facebook-Google 'duopoly' in its initial announcement of the process.

The briefs, published on the ACCC website, come from most of the country's major media companies and allied associations, including the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Fairfax, Commercial Radio Australia, Australian Radio Network, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Network Ten, Southern Cross Austereo, Stan, Foxtel and Australian Associated Press.

News Corp's statement outlines what it calls "widespread consumer harm" from anti-competitive practices, which result in “less choice and higher prices” while consumers experience “significant incursions on their privacy with digital platforms harvesting increasing amounts of personal data for commercial purposes”. The platforms' practices are also “undermining the sustainability of news and journalism as a private enterprise”, leading to “widespread cost-cutting in newsrooms and reduced incentives to invest in quality journalism”, the company wrote.

The brief also decries the fact that "advertisers too often find their brands placed in unsafe online environments, such as alongside extremist or other unsavoury sites”.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the above invective, News Corp said it has not formed a final view about whether regulation is required. “Current laws may be sufficient to deal with our concerns," it wrote. "However, it may also be the case that some further legislative, regulatory and/or policy intervention or changes are required.”

Specifically, the brief called for the creation of an Algorithm Review Board to “analyse and remedy algorithmic distortions of competition”. 

Taking an overall more measured tone, the AANA acknowledged that the platforms have recently got better at working with the industry, but added that, “As they increasingly become and act as media publishers and not just content aggregation platforms, the issue of appropriate regulation for digital platforms as content creators and distributors should be considered”.

The ACCC will be hosting a series of public forums on the matter: for consumers on 29 May in Melbourne, for businesses including advertisers on 30 May in Melbourne and for journalists in Sydney in August.

The process is expected to lead to a preliminary report, possibly including recommendations for regulatory changes, in December.

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