March 6, 2021

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Facebook reverses Australia news ban after striking a deal with government

3 min read

Facebook will restore news to its platform in Australia after striking a deal with the Australian government following talks over the weekend.

The social network was on the receiving end of an international backlash for blocking its 13 million monthly users in the country from viewing, sharing or posting links to news articles and other types of content from news organisations last week, accidentally taking down charity, state health and emergency pages in the process.

The Australian government has agreed to change parts of its media bargaining code forcing tech giants to pay to host links to news content, which Facebook had said penalised it for content it “didn’t take or ask for”.

UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden is still expected to meet with Facebook executives on Thursday, after calling for a meeting to discuss his concerns about what had happened in Australia.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg and communications minister Paul Fletcher confirmed on Tuesday that a deal had been reached after the government agreed to make four amendments to its legislation.

The changes include taking into account whether a digital platform had made a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry”, notifying digital platforms of the government’s intention to add it to the code within a month of being assessed for such.

Essentially, Facebook and other tech platforms now have two months to make deals with Australian news organisations before they can be assessed as having made a significant enough contribution to the industry to avoid the code’s enforcement.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnership, said the Australian government had clarified that the company will “retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation”.

“It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” he added.

Mr Frydenberg and Mr Fletcher released a joint statement explaining that the amendments to the code will “strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms”.

“Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform and Facebook has committed to entering into good faith negotiations with Australian news media businesses in seeking to reach agreements to pay for content,” Mr Frydenberg told media.

“This follows a series of intensive negotiations with Facebook since their actions last Thursday.”

Will Easton, Facebook’s Australian managing director, said that news would be restored for Australians in the coming days, adding he was pleased the company had been able to reach the agreement following “constructive discussions” over the past week.

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” he said in a statement.

The Parliamentary Amendments to the Bill:

  • A decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses;
  • A digital platform will be notified of the Government’s intention to designate prior to any final decision – noting that a final decision on whether or not to designate a digital platform would be made no sooner than one month from the date of notification;
  • Non-differentiation provisions will not be triggered because commercial agreements resulted in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arose in the course of usual business practices; and
  • Final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months

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