Google is lobbying Labor and crossbench MPs to oppose a proposed code that would require digital platforms to pay news media companies for content, urging them to “carefully consider the proposal to ensure it operates in the best interests of Australians”.
The direct lobbying effort supplements the tech giant’s major digital campaign, which includes a post on Google’s home page, and pop-up advertisements on Google Search, Chrome and YouTube to mobilise its huge user base against the proposal.
Guardian Australia understands Google has made direct approaches to a number of key MPs in an attempt to convince them against supporting the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) draft code for digital platforms.
Government MPs have been approached to set up meetings, as has Labor’s shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, the Greens media and communication spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, and others on the crossbench.
Guardian Australia has also seen an email sent to MPs by Hannah Frank, Google’s government affairs and public policy manager, warning the code gives “big media companies special treatment” and encourages them to make “enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk”.
The email asks MPs to consider alternatives proposed by Google.
“We understand the draft code will be introduced to parliament ‘shortly after’ the close of consultation on 28 August,” Frank wrote. “We ask you to carefully consider the proposal to ensure it operates in the best interests of Australians.”
The lobbying effort comes amid reports that MPs are being inundated with automated emails criticising the proposal.
The Australian newspaper reported on Thursday that the emails contained scripted text labelling the code an “assault on Australia’s democracy”, which appeared to stem from a Change.org petition from an anonymous YouTuber called “Economics Explained”.
Google denied any connection to that YouTube channel.
The ACCC has stated that Google will not be required to charge Australians for using free services like Google Search and YouTube “unless it chooses to do so”.
Google says that every digital service Google and Facebook provide that uses news content will be affected by the code.
Consultation on the ACCC’s proposal finishes on Friday. The code is aimed at addressing the imbalance in bargaining power between the news media and tech giants such as Facebook and Google, and force the platforms to pay for the value they receive from use of Australian journalism.
The code would also require Google and Facebook to provide media companies with information on changes that might affect their traffic, such as alterations to news rankings or the search algorithm.
Google is not alone in lobbying on this issue. Media companies, including News Corp and Nine, have engaged in a major public campaign to pressure government to regulate the digital giants.
Weaknesses in Australia’s lobbying transparency regimes mean the public cannot see which companies are lobbying on which issue at any one time.
A Google spokesman confirmed the company was engaging constructively with the government and “parliamentarians from all parties”. He said this was to share the company’s perspective and deliver a fairer code.
“This code as it stands is essentially unworkable,” he said. “On its current terms, it would take away the fairness, independence and objectivity of products like Google Search and YouTube. As a result the draft code will significantly impact the products and services used by millions of Australians and Australian small businesses every day.”
He said Google was not opposed to the principle of a code, and would support one that was “workable and fair”.