It is not a tenable position for them to simply flout a law

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher

“We are seeing a market structure evolve in which a small number of very large global companies have used the internet to build very strong positions in markets around the world,” he said.

“Now one of the implications of that is that it is not, in fact, as challenging in some ways to regulate for the internet as we thought it was going to be 20 plus years ago when the view was that there would be millions of web sites around the world and most of them would ignore the regulation of a particular country like Australia.”

The ACCC has proposed sweeping measures to protect consumers, including tougher privacy laws, a new ombudsman to handle complaints and a code of conduct framework that would give media companies more clout in commercial negotiations with the platforms.

Mr Fletcher noted that most of the internet giants are publicly listed in the US, which means they need to comply with the laws in the legal jurisdictions in which they operate. As a result “it is not a tenable position for them to simply flout a law,” he said.

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Submissions to Treasury on the final report of the digital platforms inquiry closed September 12, and the government is holding targeted consultations until the end of October before deciding on its regulatory and legislative response to the report before year’s end.

Mr Fletcher highlighted the “tricky issues” associated with one of the ACCC’s recommendations that there should be targeted grants to support the production of local and regional journalism with a particular focus on local governments and local courts.

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The government has noted that similar proposals have been enacted in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

“A few weeks ago on a visit to New Zealand I met Jane Wrightson, the Chief Executive of New Zealand On Air, which administers a grants program under which journalists are located in particular regional towns. The content they produce is available to local newspapers, radio stations and others,” said Mr Fletcher.

But he warned of the issues created where journalists are funded in towns where there remains a viable local newspaper.

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“Government is effectively subsidising competitors to the business which already serves the town,” he said.

Mr Fletcher acknowledged media concerns about the AFP raids on the ABC and the home of a News Corp journalist.

He noted the government responses to these concerns, which includes an inquiry into press freedom and a ministerial direction to the AFP to take into account a free and open press in Australia. But he also stated that they AFP’s actions “are not unprecedented” and said there always will be a “healthy tension between competing objectives.”

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