Microsoft’s support for the proposed legislation in Australia that would force rivals Google and Facebook to compensate news outlets for their journalism signals an unusual split within the tech sector. One that could well effect fundamental changes in the way the Internet functions, and chart a new course for the struggling news media industry. Under the News Media Bargaining Code, Google and Facebook would be required to pay publishers for the privilege of linking to their news stories, which both have termed illogical and unworkable since it undermines their business models. Microsoft’s search engine Bing may account for less than 5 per cent of the market in the country, but it has already offered to fill the void if Google actually turns off its search engine, as it has threatened to.
Not stopping at that, Microsoft has even asked other countries to follow Australia’s lead in calling for news outlets to be paid for the content published online. Canberra’s insistence on framing new rules of engagement between traditional media outlets, which are financially distressed, and the tech giants — which capture a significant share of advertising revenues without investing in news coverage, human resources or material inputs — is being seen as a creative proposal to support free press. The then US President Donald Trump had objected to the Australian proposal. How his successor tackles the issue could be crucial for the code’s global playbook.
Since Google is back at the table seeking the middle ground, any deal on a revenue-sharing model that seeks to fix the ‘bargaining power imbalances’ will be seen as a victory of sorts for the news media organisations. Not just in Australia, but across the world. Microsoft’s stance may invite accusations of opportunism, but when has that not been its rivals’ core competence, that too at the cost of those who do the real hard work? The next few days could provide a template for the much-needed lifeline for the news media sector.