The ACCC Report - lessons for Aotearoa?

A blog post by Jordan Carter, Chief Executive
Thursday 15 August 2019

At the end of July, the Australian competition regulator published the final report of its inquiry into Digital Platforms. The Australian Government is seeking input on the recommendations it contains. 

The inquiry looked at the impact that digital platforms are having on the Australian media sector - particularly through the impact of Google and Facebook in changing how advertising markets work. 

I wanted to share just a few thoughts on the report and the matters it deals with, and its relevance - or otherwise - for New Zealand. Three key things caught my eye, and one reflection will wrap this piece up.

First, this report was not a generic “look at social media and Internet platforms” report and how to deal with all of the challenges they present to society - it was focused on the media, and its recommendations need to be read with that in mind. Some of the local media coverage of the report (e.g. this Newsroom piece) notes this but perhaps reads more into the ACCC’s recommendations than they were designed to attract. It is also worth remembering that the context for media markets in Australia is different to here - public media is much better resourced, and their legal framework is quite different from ours in many ways.

Second, the ACCC did take a broad look at the issues. While their recommendations do need to be seen through that media lens, some of them would have a wider impact (e.g. privacy law reform) or connect to other concepts specific to Australia (e.g. their Consumer Data Right work). I was really pleased to see them taking that breadth of view in dealing with the challenges media are facing. 

Third, some of the recommendations in the report connect with ongoing policy change here. We have a Privacy Bill working its way through Parliament, with some changes that reflect parts of what the ACCC dealt with. We are in the process of reviewing copyright law, and changes to competition law are working their way through the system.

Those are the key takeouts I took in reading the executive summary. I haven’t read the 625 pages of the full report and so I can’t comment in detail on the recommendations themselves.

My reflection is that New Zealand is also thinking about the role of social media and its impact on media markets here. The ACCC report is only one side of the story, and no doubt the big platforms mentioned in the report are working on their responses. Our Commerce Commission had some consideration of these issues in the context of the proposed NZME/Fairfax merger a few years ago.

So here are some questions that come to mind for me, on which I’d love to hear your views:

Are there issues here that need scrutiny in New Zealand, as highlighted by this ACCC report? Would those issues be in the media and advertising area, which was the ACCC’s focus, or in other areas?

If there are issues, what would be the best way to tease them out?

I’d welcome your thoughts!