Rupert Murdoch and Scott Morrison (Images: AP, AAP)

The monumental theft being planned by the Australian government against Google and Facebook, and cheered on by Australian media companies, will take another step soon with the introduction of legislation for a “News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code” into parliament as the last sitting fortnight of the year begins next week.

The code is a mechanism to steal what News Corp and the Nine Network hope will be at least hundreds of millions of dollars from the tech giants on the pretext that they make money from news content.

But as American internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who now works with Google, points out, Google and Facebook have little to do with the ongoing death of the media industry in Australia compared to the impact of realestate.com.au, Domain and other internet versions of what used to be classified advertising — most of which are owned by the same media companies demanding the government steal from the tech giants.

The code was effectively dictated to the government by News Corp, which had peddled the lie of Google and Facebook making vast sums off the “theft” of news content — a claim forensically exposed as false by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In July, The Australian newspaper made the case for excluding the ABC from accessing funds from any deal with publishers. “Given the ABC has not lost a cent in revenue to these trillion-dollar thieves, it’s a bit rich to be insinuating itself into the revenue-sharing deal at this stage,” it thundered in an editorial.

Realising such a blatant attack on the ABC might cruel the chances of securing passage of the legislation, the government has now signalled the ABC and SBS could be included in the scheme — to the fury of Liberal MPs. But the ABC haters don’t need to be too worried — the government can always cut ABC funding by whatever amount it makes from Google and Facebook.

The Google and Facebook heist is just one of several initiatives the Coalition is pursuing currently to fund News Corp. Foxtel was handed another $10 million recently from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher without having to even bother explaining what it would be spent on.

That follows, of course, a $30 million handout to Foxtel by Malcolm Turnbull, who has changed his tune somewhat about News Corp in the time since he was forced out of the prime ministership.

Foxtel is a black hole for News — subscriber numbers are only being held up by the volatile seasonality of sport for its Kayo streaming service. The Foxtel Now services are losing subscribers and while streaming service Binge has been something of a success, it lags badly behind Netflix and Stan. News Corp had to lend US$900 million to Foxtel in 2019 to keep it out of the hands of its lenders.

News Corp also lost out overnight when Bertelsmann of Germany (which owns Penguin and Random House) won the auction of US book publisher Simon & Schuster, owned by ViacomCBS, for US$2.2 billion. News tried a cheap offer but lost early and CEO Robert Thomson now claims there was “no logic” to the deal and that the new company would be “a book behemoth. Distributors, retailers, authors and readers would be paying for this proposed deal for a very long time to come”.

That’s rich coming from News Corp — even just in publishing, News already controls Harper Collins, Harlequin and others companies. Simon & Schuster would have given it a huge share of global markets.

But the hundreds of millions News Corp hopes to get from big tech could be accompanied by another windfall, not unrelated to the issue of what’s causing the death of the media industry. As part of the Liberal plan to destroy the super system, Liberal MPs like Tim Wilson are pushing for super to be opened up to home buyers — an effective means of encouraging people to drain their super accounts, undermining the power of super funds so despised by the Liberals.

That won’t help a single homebuyer — it will simply pump more money into the housing market, pushing house prices up further as super-wielding buyers vie to outbid each other for property.

But it will help existing homeowners, who will get an extra boost from the higher prices created by the addition of super to the pool of demand for housing. And it will help real estate agents and the two biggest real estate sites — realestate.com.au and Domain. The former, of course, majority owned by News Corp and the dominant property site. The latter, majority owned by Nine, is a key source of revenue for that beleaguered media company.

No wonder, as The Australian’s bloviator-at-large Paul Kelly admitted this week, that the paper isn’t merely conservative or even right-wing, but actively provides partisan support for the Coalition. The company stands to do very well indeed from the government.

Note: This article was amended on November 27. It originally said that: News Corp demanded that the ABC be prevented from benefitting in any way from the revenue in the proposed deal. Crikey accepts that News Corp, as distinct from individual mastheads in the company, has not made such a demand and is not opposed to the ABC’s inclusion.

Peter Fray

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