On Tuesday, Facebook said it would lift its ban on Australians sharing news after it struck an agreement on legislation with Australia’s government that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook announced that they have decided on changes to the existing legislation requiring Australian news to be compensated by the social network and Google.
In Australian attempts to make the two gateways to the Internet pay for the journalism they use, Facebook’s cooperation is a big victory. After the House of Representatives passed the draught law late Wednesday, the company blocked Australian users from viewing and posting news last week.
The amended version of the proposed law would offer a month’s notice to digital channels before they are officially designated under the code. That would allow more time to broker deals for those involved before they are forced to enter into the mandatory arbitration arrangements imposed by the proposed law.
The Facebook news blockade initially cut links to the government pandemic, public health and emergency services, at least temporarily, causing public outrage.
A statement Tuesday by Campbell Brown, the vice president of news partnerships for Facebook, said the agreement allows the company to select which publishers, including small and local ones, it would help.
In the coming days, Facebook news will be restored in Australia. “In the future, the government has clarified that we will retain the ability to decide whether news appears on Facebook so that we are not automatically subject to forced negotiation,” Brown said.
The accepted amendments were identified by Frydenberg as “clarifications” of the purpose of the government. He said his talks were “difficult” with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.
“There is no doubt that Australia, Frydenberg said, was a proxy battle for the world.”
He added, referring to the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, “Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is workable.”
In their agreements with Australian news providers, the code was intended to curb the negotiating power of Facebook and Google by requiring a negotiation safety net in the form of an arbitration tribunal. By making take-it-or-leave-it payment deals to news publishers for their journalism, the digital giants will be unable to exploit their overwhelming bargaining positions. The panel will make a binding decision on a winning bid in the event of a standoff.
Senior media lecturer at Swinburne University Belinda Barnet said the proposed changes allow Facebook time to negotiate agreements until the arbitration panel agrees on a news charge.
In a statement, Peter Lewis, director of the Centre for Responsible Technology of the Australia Institute, a think tank, said that the “amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact.”
Google also threatened to withdraw its Australian search features because it said that the new law was unworkable. The hazard, however, has faded.
Via its News Showcase model, Google has joined Australia’s biggest media firms in content licencing deals.
Via Showcase, the platform says it deals with over 50 Australian titles and more than 500 publishers worldwide using the model that was launched in October.
Facebook said it will now sign deals under its own model, Facebook News, with Australian publishers.
“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our key concerns about enabling commercial deals that recognise the value our platform offers to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” said William Easton, regional managing director of Facebook.
As a result of these reforms, we will now work to further our public interest journalism investment and restore news for Australians on Facebook in the coming days,’ Easton added.