Facebook says it will lift its Australian news ban soon

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Facebook said on Tuesday that it would lift the ban on Australian news reporting after signing a deal with the Australian government over legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they had agreed to amend the proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for the Australian news they present.

Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two Internet access portals pay for the journalism they use. The company prevented Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday night.

The amended version of the proposed legislation would give digital platforms a month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code. This would give those involved more time to negotiate deals before they are forced to enter the mandatory arbitration deals required by the proposed law.

Initially, Facebook’s news blockade cut off access – at least temporarily – to the government’s pandemic, public health and emergency services, generating public outrage.

A statement on Tuesday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for news partnerships, said the deal allows the company to choose which publishers to support, including small and local publishers.

“We are restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government clarified that we will retain the ability to decide whether the news appears on Facebook so that we are not automatically subject to forced negotiation, ”said Brown.

Frydenberg described the agreed amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intention. He said his dealings with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult”.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” said Frydenberg.

“Facebook and Google did not hide the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are in Australia and that is why they sought to obtain code that is viable here,” he added, referring to the News Media Trading Code. proposed.

The code was designed to contain the bargaining dominance of Facebook and Google in their dealings with Australian news providers, requiring a trading safety net in the form of an arbitration panel. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their oppressive negotiating positions by making pay offers like taking or leaving news companies for their journalism. In the event of a deadlock, the panel would make a binding decision on the winning bid.

Swinburne University senior media lecturer Belinda Barnet said the proposed amendments give Facebook time to close deals before the arbitration panel decides the price of news.

Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology at the Institute of Australia, a study center, said in a statement that “the amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact”.

Google also threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was impractical. But that threat has disappeared.

Google has hired Australia’s largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform claims to have business with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers worldwide using the model that was launched in October.

Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.

“We are pleased that the Australian government has agreed to a series of changes and guarantees that address our main concerns about enabling business deals that recognize the value that our platform offers publishers in relation to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional director William Easton said.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to increase our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook to Australians in the coming days,” added Easton.