Exclusive: Australia puts site accused of fake journalists on register for payment

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The Google and Facebook logos, the words “media, news, media” and the Australian flag are displayed in this illustrative photo taken on February 18, 2021. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File Photo

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SYDNEY, Dec. 23 (Reuters) – Australia’s groundbreaking law forcing platforms like Google and Facebook to pay local publishers for information faces an unlikely test case: A website that experts say uses fake profiles of journalists who won regulatory support for their offer to get paid.

Australia’s law enforcement regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, last month added “News Cop” – an almost unknown site with no physical address – to the public register of companies that can negotiate licensing deals with the parents of Facebook. and Google as part of the government system.

ACMA’s decision to wipe the site through an initial vetting process intended to support local news by giving the Australian government the power to make deals with Facebook and Google raises questions about how the still controversial law will be implemented, said several legal experts. .

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News Cop features rewritten articles from other news providers. It has no physical address other than a PO box and was registered as a company on February 21, 2021, according to records, three days before the content law was passed. It is the only media company entered in the register without any commercial file before 2021.

Until recently, the News Cop site attributed accompanying images to reporters that appeared to have been faked, according to two experts.

Adam Cox, named on ACMA’s registry as News Cop contact, declined to answer questions about journalists’ profiles. In emails and calls with Reuters, he said News Cop had no financial benefit from being listed on the ACMA ledger and the company made money from donations from readers.

Richard Holden, professor of economics at the University of New South Wales, said the inclusion of News Cop in the registry, which defines the news providers that big tech companies must compensate for their content, has undermined the intention of the law to support public service journalism and “shows you these rules are easy to play”.

“The fact that it seems to have come through the door, at least so far, is rather disturbing,” he said.

An ACMA spokesperson said that since News Cop’s clearance, the agency had returned to the company and asked questions “about the registered news company and its production of source material. ‘information”. The spokesperson declined to provide details of his investigations.

Registering does not guarantee that News Cop will receive payments from Facebook and Google. Federal treasurer’s office must first “nominate” one of the tech giants for government intervention – in which an ombudsperson decides what companies should pay for content – a measure it has yet to crossed.

Representatives for Facebook, which changed its parent entity’s name to Meta (FB.O), and Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), also declined to comment.

Both companies opposed the law and threatened to pull operations from Australia, but gave in when the government added measures that raised the bar for “designation.”

News Cop is unrelated to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWSA.O), which made deals with Facebook and Google before Australia’s licensing regime became law. All 28 companies on ACMA’s list could make deals if the government steps in.

A News Corp spokesperson did not respond to Reuters calls and emails seeking comment.

“GREATER MONITORING IS NEEDED”

Tim Graham, a disinformation researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, analyzed 14 photographs published as if they were News Cop staff and found that 13 “almost certainly” were generated by AI software . Elise Thomas, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue specializing in online disinformation, said that “most profile pictures” were “very likely” to have been generated by software.

After Reuters investigations, all signatures on News Cop articles were replaced with Cox’s name, and journalists’ photographs were replaced with a photo of a monkey. Asked about the change, Cox said: “I have no idea, I’m sorry.”

On its website, the company says the profits will be donated to charity. He also says Australia’s media law, which was passed in February, aims “to address the power imbalance between big tech companies and media like us.”

“If bogus news agencies appear on the register of qualifying news organizations, it is clear that increased monitoring is needed and that the definitions of what can be included … must be reviewed,” said Tanya Notley, associate professor at the University of Western. Sydney and vice president of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance.

Other critics of the law include free market supporters such as Holden, who say the market, not the government, should decide who gets paid for their information. From the start, Facebook and Google opposed the obligation to pay.

The impact of the law is being closely watched globally; France and Canada, among others, are considering similar regimes in which Big Tech pays news providers for content. Read more

Several other established media organizations are campaigning for Facebook and Google to be pushed into mediation. If successful, the tech giants would be required to negotiate licensing deals with every company on the ACMA registry, including News Cop. Read more

Representatives for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who oversees ACMA, declined to comment on News Cop’s inclusion in the registry and the scope of the law.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which drafted the law at the request of the treasurer, declined to comment.

($ 1 = 1.4059 Australian dollars)

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Report by Byron Kaye. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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