Google today launched its News Showcase product in Austalia, its proposed alternative to the News Media Bargaining Code and part of its global initiative to pay publishers for news content.

Google last year put News Showcase on “pause” in Australia because of the code, but has been under pressure to show how its alternative would work.

During a Senate hearing into the controversial code last month, Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg questioned the validity of an alternative Google had not yet made Showcase available in Australia.

“I struggle to reconcile how your proposal is a serious one when you haven’t even put the proposal on the table, no one can see Showcase.”

“So how can we take your blackmail and your threats seriously?”

Today the tech giant officially launched News Showcase, announcing partnerships with The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, The New Daily,  InDaily and The Conversation. 

News Showcase is a licencing program where Google pays news publishers to curate their content to be used across Google’s services. The initiative has a global budget of $1.3 billion over three years, according to Google. But it is unclear how much the company has allocated for the Australian market.

Update: A Google spokesperson declined to provide the share of the global budget that has been allocated to the Australian market.

Notably absent from the list of publishers signed on to Showcase are the mastheads of Australia’s biggest publishers, currently engaged in a stoush with Google and Facebook over the News Media Bargaining Code –  the Australian Government s attempt to force the platform giants to pay directly news content they share. 

Google News Showcase. Image: Google.

Following an extensive inquiry into digital platforms by the ACCC, the competition regulator recommended the code as a way of leveling the playing field between publishers and the tech giants by setting rules for bargaining, including an arbitration model for when negotiations can not be reached in good faith.

The News Media Bargaining Code was initially proposed as voluntary but was changed to mandatory by the government when negotiations between publishers and Facebook and Google stalled.

Subsequent consultation and inquiries into the proposed legislation have turned ugly with Facebook threatening to remove Australian news from local users and Google saying it may pull out of the market entirely if the code goes ahead.

Google’s Australian managing director, Mel Silva, told senator last month that Showcase was a viable alternative to the code because it allowed it to pay a diverse range of news publishers, including smaller and regional publishers. 

The government’s News Media Bargaining Code, however, creates “unmanageable financial and operational risk for Google”, according to Silva, because of the final offer arbitration model it includes.

At the same hearing Chris Janz, Nine Entertainment’s managing director of publishing, questioned the Showcase offering.

“Showcase is exactly what you would expect from a monopoly,” Janz told the Senate Committe. “It works at a price set by Google based on an opaque global formula. The take-it-or-leave-it terms are set by Google. And it doesn’t address the bargaining power imbalance of Google’s core search product identified by the ACCC.

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