CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Facebook announced on Tuesday that it would lift the ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on its platform after it struck a deal with the government over proposed legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
The social media company caused alarm with its sudden decision last week, to block news on its platform across Australia, after the House of Representatives passed the bill. Initially, the blackout also cut off access – at least temporarily – to the government’s pandemic, public health and emergency services, increasing outrage.
Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australia’s efforts to make two major Internet portals, Google and Facebook, pay for the journalism they use – a confrontation that governments and technology companies around the world have been watching closely. Google also threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because of the proposed law, but that threat has lessened.
“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” said treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
“Facebook and Google did not hide the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are in Australia, which is why they sought to obtain code that is viable here,” he added, referring to the bill, News Media Trading code.
In fact, this week, Microsoft and four European publishing groups announced that they would work together to promote Australian-style rules for technology platform news payments.
The legislation was designed to contain the enormous bargaining power of Facebook and Google in their dealings with Australian news providers. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their positions by making pay-as-you-go offers for news companies for their journalism. Instead, in the event of a stalemate, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning bid.
Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that the two sides agreed to changes to the proposed legislation. The changes would give digital platforms a month’s notice before they were formally designated under the code. This would give stakeholders more time to negotiate deals before they are forced to enter into binding arbitration deals.
A statement on Tuesday from Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for news partnerships, added that 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”.
A lobby group of European publishers among those who have joined Microsoft said the deal shows that such legislation is possible – and not just in Australia.
“The latest twist proves that regulation works,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council. “Regulators around the world will rest assured that they can continue to be inspired by the Australian government’s determination to resist unacceptable threats from powerful commercial gatekeepers.”
Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers.
“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.
Meanwhile, Google has hired Australia’s largest media companies into content licensing deals through its News Showcase. The platform claims to have businesses with more than 50 Australian titles and more than 500 publishers worldwide using the model, which was launched in October.
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”.
However, others have taken a more skeptical stance. Jeff Jarvis, a journalism expert at the City University of New York, said that media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who owns most of Australia’s major newspapers through his News Corp. based in the United States, it is the biggest winner, while smaller titles and new media companies would suffer more.
Jarvis said Murdoch’s media empire was the driving force behind Australian legislation, which he noted included a requirement that media companies earn at least $ 150,000 ($ 119,000) in revenue to be eligible.
“So a startup that has no revenue has no real resources,” said Jarvis, adding that even though Facebook and Google open payment negotiations with smaller companies, “clearly a smaller player has less influence than a larger player, than than a News Corp. ”
Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan contributed to this London report.