Satya Nadella spoke with Australian PM about opportunities created by pay-for-news-plan. Zuck called the Treasurer for a chat, too

And the day after news of those talks emerged, Google said it never threatened to pull search from Australia

Satya Nadella and Mark Zuckerberg spoke to Australia’s leaders last week to discuss the nation’s News Media Bargaining Code, a plan to force Google and Facebook to pay when they link to news content.

News of the conversations came from Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Sunday political chat panel show Insiders.

“Mark Zuckerberg reached out to talk about the code and the impact on Facebook,” Frydenberg said. He and communications minister Paul Fletcher took that call.

“It was a very constructive discussion,” Frydenberg said, adding that it did not change his or Fletcher’s position.

Google's self-promoting news code warning to Australians

Google Australia’s self-promoting search results.
Click to enlarge

Frydenberg then revealed that Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison last week spoke with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith.

“As you know they’ve got Microsoft Bing which is another search engine,” Frydenberg said. The show’s host suggested Nadella and Smith made the call in the interest of increasing Bing’s market share. To which Frydenberg responded: “They are watching this very closely and no doubt see opportunities here in Australia to expand.”

The treasurer’s remarks come after Google last week showed Australian users a big yellow banner that offered links to its arguments about the News Media Bargaining Code.

In previous publications such as Google ANZ managing director Mel Silva’s January 22nd comments to a Senate committee, Google said that if the Code goes ahead in its current form the company would have “no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”

A new Google FAQ, published on February 1st, uses the following language: “Stopping to make Search available is the last thing we want to have happen, and it’s a worst-case scenario if the Code remains unworkable.” The new post also says Silva’s remarks are in no way a threat to pull search in Australia.

Microsoft are watching this very closely and no doubt see opportunities here in Australia

That shift may reflect the ongoing discussions between Australia’s government, Google, and Facebook, that Frydenberg also revealed in his Sunday remarks.

Changes that are more to Google’s liking remain possible as the News Media Bargaining Code is currently being considered by a committee. But Google’s only public offer is for Australia to sign up to its News Showcase program, an offer that is widely held to offer less money than Australia’s planned code.

Frydenberg did not reveal the substance of the government's discussions with Microsoft, but the prospect of the software giant enthusiastically signing up for the Code and writing big cheques to Australian media would certainly put the cat among the pigeons! ®

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