Sunday, August 02, 2020

Australia is on track to become the first country in the world to order Google and Facebook to pay for news content after a landmark code was unveiled

Tech giants will be forced to pay Australian media companies for their content and be forced into binding arbitration if parties can not agree within a three-month window.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed the ACCC’s news bargaining code in Canberra, saying it was designed to create a “level-playing field” for Australian media businesses that were forced to work with the powerful multibillion-dollar firms.

The code comes one year after the ACCC handed down the results of an 18-month investigation into digital platforms that recommended tech giants share revenue obtained “directly or indirectly” from news content on their platforms, which generate billions of dollars in advertising every year.

“It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection, and a sustainable media landscape,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“Nothing less than the future of the Australian media landscape is at stake with these changes.

“It became apparent to us a number of months ago that we weren’t making progress on that critical issue of payment for content.  “Hence we are moving down the path of a mandatory code. A mandatory code that governs those relationships and covers issues such as access to user data, the transparency of algorithms used by the digital platforms for the ranking and the presentation of media content, as well as of course payment for content.

“We want Google and Facebook to continue to provide these services to the Australian community which are so much loved and used by Australians.

“But we want it to be on our terms. We want it to be in accordance with our law. And we want it to be fair. And that is what has motivated us with this mandatory code.”

The ACCC code of conduct will require Google and Facebook to compensate commercial news media businesses for the use of their content, with negotiations due to be settled within three months.

If they cannot reach an agreement, Mr Frydenberg said negotiations would go to “binding final-offer arbitration,” and laws are expected to be introduced to Parliament within months.

Mr Frydenberg said the code would also include substantial penalties if Facebook and Google sought to break the new rules, including fines of up to “$10 million per breach or three times the benefit obtained or 10 per cent of annual turnover, whichever is greater”.

“I think this is a better set of recommendations and a better pathway going forward than what we’ve seen elsewhere,” Mr Frydenberg said. “It’s the product of 18 months worth of work, extensive consultation, and our law will set up for a more level playing field.”

The news code will also force Google and Facebook to share some data with news businesses, including warning them about changes that affect the way they show local news content, and create a way for media organisations to contact the international firms.

Despite a long wait for its creation, the news code could make Australia the first country to force multibillion-dollar tech giants to pay media organisations for the use of their content after failed attempts overseas.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the regulator “observed and learned from the approaches of regulators and policymakers internationally that have sought to secure payment for news”.

“There is a fundamental bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and the major digital platforms, partly because news businesses have no option but to deal with the platforms, and have had little ability to negotiate over payment for their content or other issues,” he said.

“We wanted a model that would address this bargaining power imbalance and result in fair payment for content, which avoided unproductive and drawn-out negotiations and wouldn’t reduce the availability of Australian news on Google and Facebook.”

Mr Sims also dismissed suggestions that Google could remove Australian news from its news portal and search results to get around the laws due to the way the code was structured and the fines built into it.

“That won’t make one jot of difference to this mandatory code,” Mr Sims said. “We really hope the platforms also recognise that this is a move whose time has come.”

But Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva slammed the draft code, saying it did not offer “incentives” for digital platforms to innovate, did not take into account web traffic Google provided to Australian news outlets, and put Google services in Australia at risk.

“The Government’s heavy-handed intervention threatens to impede Australia’s digital economy and impacts the services we can deliver to Australians,” she said.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller welcomed the announcement, however, and called the draft code a “watershed moment to benefit all Australians,” as it had the potential to secure a future for Australian news providers.

“The tech platforms’ days of free-riding on other peoples’ content are ending,” Mr Miller said. “They derive immense benefit from using news content created by others and it is time for them to stop denying this fundamental truth.”

Mr Miller said the draft code of conduct also ensured Google and Facebook could not “walk away from negotiations with news creators” as they had done in the past.

Media and legal experts say the ruling could deliver an important “lifeline” to an industry vital to Australian democracy and one that had been hard hit by the growing dominance of two international firms.

Swinburne University social media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said Australian newsrooms had been “pummelled by digital giants” in the online advertising market and ensuring they received a fair cut of revenue was “critical to keeping democracy alive” and Australians informed.

But she warned there was still a risk the tech giants could seek to get around the new rules, simply to avoid setting an international precedent in Australia that could be used by other countries.


Promising South Australian vaccine could be ready in ‘three or four months’

Adelaide scientists have been working overtime on a new vaccine which has already shown promising results after clearing its first phase of human trials. The drug named COVAX-19 was trialled on 40 volunteers earlier this month.

The vaccine is showing promising signs it “could actually save lives”, the developers of the vaccine said, who also predict it could safely be used in humans immediately.

In fact, vaccine developer Professor Nikolai Petrovsky claims there’s no reason it can’t be used in Victorian aged care homes now.

“We have something that we believe already has shown it can potentially save lives,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“The data suggests it’s highly effective, we just need to finish the clinical trial programs and then seek approval for it.

Appearing on Sunrise, Professor Nikolai Petrovsky described the update as “very exciting”.

“Safety data from the clinical trials shows the vaccine isn’t showing any problems at all and is inducing the right type of immune response,” he said.

Mr Petrovsky said the vaccine had been shown to produce “very strong” antibodies which kill coronavirus in monkeys, ferrets and mice, and had been proven to induce an antibody response in humans.

While the Australian government “knocked back” Mr Petrovsky’s request for help funding the trial, he said he’s already negotiating with the Canadian and UK governments for funding.


One in three schools agree to phonics reading check as critics sound alarm

One in three NSW public primary schools have signed up to an August trial of the controversial year 1 phonics screening check, in a sign of educators' growing support for a phonics-heavy approach to teaching reading after decades of bitter debate.

Some 518 of the state's 1600-odd government schools and 49 Catholic schools will do the check between mid and late August. Teachers will spend five to seven minutes with each student to listen to how they blend sounds to read 40 words.

"It will give us a lot of information," said Michelle Looker, the k-2 assistant principal at Kingswood South Primary. "I think it's really helpful."

It comes as the new K-2 curriculum arising from the NSW Curriculum Review is expected to embed a phonics – or sounding out of words – approach as the preferred way of teaching children how to read.

The debate over early reading instruction remains one of the most brutal in education. Opponents of the phonics check, who support an approach called balanced literacy, said they were disappointed so many schools had volunteered.

Both sides agree phonics is part of learning to read. But advocates of so-called synthetic phonics say learning to read is like cracking a code; students need to first learn the relationships between letters and sounds, then how to blend those sounds together to read whole words.

The phonics check is based on this approach, and includes 20 so-called pseudo or non-words such as "flisp" to check that students really know their letter-sound combinations, and don't just recognise the words because they have been repeatedly exposed to them.

Advocates of balanced literacy, which has been the dominant approach to reading instruction in schools and university education departments for decades, say synthetic phonics makes children read robotically, and argue finding meaning in words from the outset is paramount.

They say sounding out words, while valuable, should not be given too much emphasis, and disapprove of the check's pseudo words.

The NSW Department of Education's evidence centre in 2017 backed synthetic phonics as one of the keys to teaching reading effectively, and the department has been offering teachers training in how to use it.

The recent NSW Curriculum Review called for a "detailed and explicit" curriculum for the teaching of reading and pointed to influential research by Macquarie University cognitive scientists on the importance of synthetic phonics.

Phonics advocate Jennifer Buckingham said large number of schools signing up to the check was "a big deal".

"A couple of years ago we were having debates about whether the phonics check was a good idea, there was all this misinformation about the pseudo word component, all without much foundation," she said.

"The fact that 500 schools want to participate means that the right information is finding its way into schools about the value of doing this assessment."

Kingswood South Principal Sandra Martin said the school had a strong synthetic phonics program, and had seen students make progress in literacy as a result.

"We thought anything that could give us more information about how our students are progressing was worth doing," she said. "We can use it to see where our children are at, and that can help our teachers plan."

The learning support co-ordinator, Stephanie Lewis, said the check would involve students reading 20 real words and 20 pseudo words. "It shows us the strategies kids are using to decode a word," she said.

"Sometimes we don't know whether they know that word and are just remembering it. When we use the pseudo words, we can see that they are using those phonics skills to decode the word rather than relying on their memory."

The only other state that uses a year one phonics check – long advocated by the federal Coalition government – is South Australia. "[That trial] identified students struggling with decoding that they'd pegged as really good readers," Dr Buckingham said.

Balanced literacy proponent Robyn Ewing, a professor emerita of education at Sydney University, said she was disappointed that so many schools had signed up.

She said phonics strategies were important, but not helpful if "they're not making meaning and sense of what they're doing," she said. "It boils down to meaning – understanding that it's about meaning-making first."


AUSMIN a thrilling, unexpected triumph for Trump admin.

This AUSMIN meeting was a triumph for the Trump administration which was rightly thrilled and probably a little surprised that Australia agreed to the White House’s request to come to Washington.

At this volatile moment in history, Australia has become the model ally for which the US is looking when it comes to confronting a rising and increasingly belligerent China.

The face-to-face annual AUSMIN meeting and press conference between the respective foreign and defence ministers – Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds – gave the administration the chance to loudly tout what Australia has done on China and in doing so, send a message to other US allies to copy Canberra’s lead.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a series of recent speeches, has been pleading with more democratic allies to stand up to Beijing, even if it hurts them economically.

From Washington’s perspective, Australia has ticked all of these boxes and more. It even led the US in banning Huawei and introducing foreign interference legislation several years ago.

More recently, the Morrison government has won plaudits in Washington for its call for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

In the face of persistent threats and intimidation from Beijing, the government this month boldly declared China’s absurd and hegemonic territorial claims in the South China Sea to be illegal.

It has also angered Beijing by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offering citizenship options in Australia for residents of Hong Kong in response to China’s push to remove freedoms and human rights protections.

Each of these moves have led to threats of reprisals – sometimes implemented – from an increasingly angry Beijing. But they have been carefully watched and warmly welcomed by the US which views China through a dramatically different lens than it did just a few years ago.

During this US election China is under attack from both sides of politics in the US. It has no friends in Washington.

Donald Trump, who has waged a long and still unfinished trade war with Beijing, sees China as largely to blame for the coronavirus which has destroyed the US economy and severely harmed his chances of re-election.

His administration, led by Pompeo, has clashed with Beijing over Huawei, over its unfair trading practices and over its cyber warfare amongst numerous other issues.

It has tried to call China out over these many issues but has been frustrated by the sometimes tepid support it has received from many other allies, particularly in Europe.

Which is why Washington is so pleased that Australia has been willing to openly call Beijing out on some of these issues despite the obvious risk of economic reprisal.

Australia is not saying whether it will take the next step in challenging Beijing by joining the US Navy in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

For now that may be a step too far, especially as China policy in the US becomes increasingly politicised as the US election creeps closer.

But at the AUSMIN press conference, Pompeo and Esper’s comments contained more ‘thank you’s’ than a wedding speech as they rattled off the list of Australian efforts to hold China accountable for its behaviour.

This was an AUSMIN meeting that went beyond the usual platitudes because both countries are so deeply engaged right now with the question of China.

Among the thanks you’s was the fact that two Cabinet ministers, two department secretaries and the CDF amongst others now have two weeks quarantine to face upon their return.

So was it worth the trip? The Americans certainly think so.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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