If you’re concerned about dreadful trends in the journalism business, such as mass layoffs and private-equity takeovers, then you’ll probably like the scheme Australia devised last year to funnel funding from platforms to traditional media. And if you like the idea of sticking it to Facebook and Google, you’ll probably appreciate it even more.
In the past year, the two companies have been forced to pay more than $150 million to Australian news organizations large and small, thanks to legislation passed in early 2021. Canada now appears to be on the verge of passing similar legislation, while the U.K. and the U.S. are pondering their own bills. If all those measures pass—and that’s a big if, given tech’s lobbying and public relations armies—Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, could wind up paying billions of dollars a year.
I recently returned from Sydney, where I spent six weeks interviewing dozens of publishers, journalists and government officials about the new law there. I found plenty of flaws: It’s opaque, it’s unfair to some smaller and newer outlets, it builds a dependence on tech money that could backfire on the news business. In other words, as Winston Churchill might put it, it’s the worst possible solution to the news industry’s woes—except for all the others.