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Australia to Probe Google and Facebook Over Role in Media

The Australian government said Monday that it would open an inquiry into Facebook and Google and their impact on the media industries.

The move was announced by the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission. It follows a revamp of media laws in September this year.

The ACCC said that it would look at “the impact digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms are having on competition in media and advertising services markets.” A preliminary report will be published early December 2018, with a final report due early June 2019.

“The ACCC will look closely at longer-term trends and the effect of technological change on competition in media and advertising,” Rod Sims, the ACCC chairman, said. “We will also consider the impact of information asymmetry between digital platform providers and advertisers and consumers.”

The probe comes as several traditional Australian media companies, especially in the print and television sectors, have witnessed declines in advertising revenue. Hemorrhaging cash, the free-to-air Ten Network recently went into administration and was subsequently bought at a distress price by CBS.

That trend was specifically acknowledged by the ACCC in a statement. “Advertising expenditure in print newspapers has been in decline for a number of years. Recent ACCC merger reviews have shown that most advertisers are spending less on print newspapers and finding alternative ways of reaching target audiences, including through digital media,” it read.

The difficulties of financing production, highlighted recently by film and TV companies, may also be covered by the probe. “As the media sector evolves, there are growing concerns that digital platforms are affecting traditional media’s ability to fund the development of content,” Sims said.

Facebook and Google have often been at pains to avoid being labeled as media companies, and suggest that they are instead platforms. But as they increase news aggregation capabilities and digital media gain mainstream advertisers, that position may become harder to defend. The influence of fake news carried by social media platforms is being investigated in other countries to determine if it had an impact on elections.

“Through our inquiry, the ACCC will look closely at the impact of digital platforms on the level of choice and quality of news and content being produced by Australian journalists,” Sims said.

“We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant,” a Google spokesman told Reuters.

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