ACT has invoked the ‘agree to disagree’ provisions of its coalition agreement and will oppose the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill.
The Bill is a sop. Even its supporters estimate it may only provide $30 million in revenue to all media companies, but revenue at TVNZ alone dropped by half that last year. The Bill’s a failed Labour inheritance our partners just can’t shrug off. It’s one of those things you do when you don’t know what else to do.
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. This Bill is unlikely to change the underlying reality that media companies need to adapt, innovate, and provide a product customers want to buy, just like any other business.
Media companies claim they need 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.
A Sapere report commissioned by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage suggests that the benefits media firms derive from Google and Meta driving traffic to their websites is “significant”. The report’s authors did not agree that Google and Meta were effectively capturing or reducing advertising revenue that might have otherwise gone to media firms.
That raises the question of whether there is a problem that government should step in to solve.
Labour’s Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill always appeared like an attempt to force one group of businesses to subsidise another. But it’s not the role of government to protect businesses from the effects of competition and changing customer preferences.
We are also concerned that the Bill could have unintended consequences for New Zealanders.
In Canada, Meta blocked users’ ability to share or view news content leading to a significant reduction in traffic to smaller, independent media websites and the government having to bail them out. And if news disappears from social media platforms, misinformation will take its place.
It’s clear that New Zealand’s traditional media companies support this bill. They believe it would net them significant resources from their online competitors. But the real sums claimed don’t add up to a game changer.
When our partners tried to rescue the Bill, they made 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.

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