A definitive new report on Australia’s media bargaining policy explains how it’s working to get tech giants to pay for news content.

The timing is perfect. U.S. and Canadian lawmakers are working on similar policies to help news outlets obtain fair compensation from dominant platforms profiting from their news content.

Canada’s version advanced this week with strong support in its House of Commons.

A U.S. version, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, is being revised with amendments that could be filed this month. Ideally, it would be advancing with Klobuchar’s antitrust bill dealing with tech giants’ self-preferencing but that bill moved ahead as JCPA negotiations dragged on.

Australia’s policy was created to address the imbalance of power when news media businesses deal with platforms, Rod Sims, former chair of Australia’s competition authority, wrote in the report

The objective “was to support the sustainability of news and journalism by evening up the bargaining power so that commercial deals could get done. This has essentially been achieved,” Sims wrote.

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Sims said similar things in an interview with me last year and other press interviews.

Yet he needed to debunk, once again, red herrings that tech giants and their allies continue using to cast doubt on the policy.

No, this isn’t creating a link tax or per-click payments. The report explains that Australia’s policy requires payments to be lump sum, not per click, and every deal Sims viewed has “been entered into as a lump-sum payment.”

Its policy isn’t perfect and work remains. In particular, Sims is calling for its regulatory hammer to be deployed against Facebook because the company is failing to negotiate deals with several outlets.

Initially, just the threat of being regulated by the competition authority was enough to get platforms negotiating. In that way, the policy was effective without even being activated.

Google, meanwhile, continues to make deals with publishers, according to a Sydney Morning Herald story this week.

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The story said the philanthropic Minderoo Foundation helped 24 independent publishers obtain funding for use of their news in search results. It negotiated with Google on the publishers’ behalf.

“It seems to me now that Google has done a deal with just about 100% of the people who qualify,” Sims told the paper. 

Also noted were efforts in New Zealand, where an association of 28 local news outlets hired two former media executives to negotiate a fee of at least $40 million New Zealand dollars from Google and Facebook.

Sims’ report was sponsored by the Judith Neilson Institute think tank.

He also wrote a two-part column for Canada’s National Post, supporting its policy modeled on Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code (NMBC).

“Based on my close observation, the NMBC has facilitated over $200 million being paid annually by Google and Facebook to news media businesses, large, medium and small. Further, these media businesses feel they could successfully bargain on much more equal terms with the dominant platforms in ways not imaginable prior to the NMBC legislation being passed,” Sims wrote.

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Sims’ column chuckled at Facebook “amusingly” saying such policies facilitate “cartels,” a misleading line that was also used by critics in a February Senate hearing on Senate Bill 673.

“Collective bargaining was felt to be necessary because there would be numerous small news media businesses that would struggle to effectively bargain on their own. … Allowing companies with, say, less than $500,000 revenue to get together to bargain with a company valued at well over $1 trillion would encourage competition; it could not harm it.”

Free paper available: There’s a free paper available in Minnesota. Not just an issue, but the whole enterprise. The Lafayette Nicollet Ledger is being given away by publisher Lee Zion, as he heads to Ukraine to join the fight against Russia, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. Zion tried selling but didn’t get a buyer for the weekly he bought four years ago for $35,000. It has about 500 subscribers and is profitable, the story said, though it operates as a one-person show, supplemented by some freelancers.

Northern California papers: The Healdsburg Tribune, which I wrote about recently, is one of several papers struggling in California wine country, writes the Santa Rosa-based Press Democrat: “It’s a precarious moment for the North Bay’s smallest newspapers. The Windsor Times, Cloverdale Reveille, Sonoma West Times & News, Russian River Times, Clearlake Observer American and Middletown Times Star, among others, have either ceased print operations or gone out of business entirely in the past couple decades,” it wrote.

Uvalde’s local paper: The New Yorker published a short and wrenching story about the Uvalde Ledger-News, the local paper that ran a blacked out front page after the May 24 slaughter. It describes the stricken atmosphere when the newsroom learns a reporter’s daughter was killed, and the photographer’s initial hope that the gunman would be led out in handcuffs and all the children would be safe.

It notes that “Local news is an increasingly tough business. Twenty-one Texas counties now have no newspaper at all. When local papers fold, as happened in nearby Del Rio, the information void is often filled by Facebook groups of questionable reliability.”

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