Google, Facebook grant “news” status to an Australian local government website

Sydney: Google and Facebook Inc awarded the status of an Australian local government news provider, raising questions about the internet giants’ efforts to sponsor the media.

The Bundaberg Council, a regional government, told Reuters that a website it runs was rated as a “news source” from Google, making it the first local government in the country with such accreditation.

This means that a board-funded website that contains only PR content is prioritized in Google News searches for the 100,000-person agricultural hub, accompanied by a “news source” tag.

Bundaberg also has the only confirmed Facebook page in the country run by the council which has been classified as a “news and media site”.

The ranking shows the remaining gaps in the country’s traditional news market as small publications wither and disappear. The Bundaberg Council news site says it does not publish court reports, crimes, politics, “investigative journalism” or “negative stories.”

“It’s just another example of how these tech giants are allowed to operate outside of any accountability frame whatsoever,” said Dennis Muller, emeritus fellow at the Center for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

“If they want to classify the council’s public relations website as a news site, they can, and there’s nothing stopping them.”

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook are battling an Australian federal government’s plan to make it pay the media for original content appearing on their platforms, as it tells a Senate investigation committee that the new rules could push them to cancel some essential services in the country.

A Google representative declined to comment. The Google support page states that publishers “are automatically seen on the Top News or News tab in search” and that they “only need to produce high-quality content and comply with Google News’ content policies.”

Jack Dempsey, Bundaberg mayor, said in a report of inquiry that the new rules “will support failed business models” and may have “unintended consequences, including … damage to new media and innovative publishing models like Bundaberg Now.”

Michael Goree, Communications Executive at Bundaberg Council, told Reuters that commercial media such as the Australian state broadcaster Broadcasting Corporation were still reporting in the region “albeit with less coverage than it was a few years ago.”

“The commercial media have a strong focus on news like crime, tragedy and domestic politics that Bundaberg is now choosing not to publish,” he said in an email.

“Bundaberg Now strives to fill a gap in the media market with community, local business news and events. We see no evidence of market failure in Bundaberg to justify the federal government’s intervention. “

The city of Onkaparinga, in the south of the country near Adelaide, launched a news site Onkaparinga Now in 2018. One representative said the council had not applied for official news provider status with Google or Facebook.

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