Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a meeting with Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai over controversial law that will force tech firms to pay local publishers for content they utilise, or even link to, on their platforms.
The meeting had the potential to be incredibly awkward, after a senior Google executive last month warned the Australian government that Google could remove its search engine from Australia over the matter.
Australia’s law is being strongly opposed by Google and Facebook, despite Australia touting the incoming law as a way to protect independent journalism.
But despite this, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at least said Thursday he had a “constructive meeting” with Sundar Pichai.
The legislation is currently being reviewed by an Australian Senate committee, and a vote is expected early this year.
If passed, the new media law would require digital platforms to pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content in news feeds or search results.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a government-appointed panel will decide on the price.
“I thought it was a constructive meeting,” Morrison was quoted by CNBC as telling reporters on Thursday.
“I have been able to send them the best possible signals that should give them a great encouragement to engage with the process and conclude the arrangements we’d like to see them conclude with the various news media organisations in Australia,” he said.
Morrison reportedly said Google raised specific aspects of the media bargaining code on the call and the discussions touched on the company’s ability to continue providing services in Australia.
“At the end of the day, they understand that Australia sets the rules for how these things operate. And I was very clear about how I saw this playing out,” Morrison said, without further elaboration.
Google did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comments.
Separately, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reportedly told local media he had a “very constructive discussion” with Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg over the proposed media law but that ultimately, it did not shift the government’s position on the policy.
Facebook last September bluntly warned Aussie users it will prevent them sharing local and international news on its platforms (including Instagram), if Australia presses ahead with this law.
But last week, an Australian government minister claimed that Microsoft’s Bing, was ready to step in to provide its online search engine for Australian citizens.
Redmond of course stands to gain from any fallout between Google and Australia,
It is understood that Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella has already spoken to the Australian Prime Minister about the matter.
Meanwhile Microsoft’s President Brad Smith took the opportunity to slam Google’s threat to withdraw its widely used search engine from the country.
Microsoft would never threaten to leave Australia and supports the plan to make digital platforms pay for news, Smith reportedly said.
The prime minister told reporters on Monday that based on his conversation with Nadella, Microsoft was “pretty confident” of filling the massive void that would be left by Google if it withdraws its search engine from Australia.
It remains to be seen what happens next.
It should be remembered Google had already shut down its Google News service altogether in Spain in 2014, when Spain required news aggregators (such as Google) to pay for a license to use news content.
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