Facebook u-turn on news content ban in Australia

SYDNEY, 23 Feb 2021:

Facebook today announced its plan to lift a ban on the publication of news on its platform in Australia in the next few days.

The social media giant had decided to bar publishers and other users in Australia from sharing and viewing news last week, on Feb 18, in response to proposed legislation by the government – which requires technology companies to pay media for the content they publish on their platforms.

In a statement, Facebook said: “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.

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

The decision to block Australian news without prior notice – shortly before the Covid-19 vaccination programme began in that country – was widely criticised by media, activists, and the government.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and minister of communications Paul Fletcher today said the government would introduce new amendments to the news media code to “provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses.

“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.”

The government will notify a digital platform of its intention to designate it as per the code. But final decision to do so would be taken only a month after the notification, according to their joint release.

The bill, approved by the House of Representatives last week, is now in the Senate for its approval.

It estimates that if tech companies and media firms do not reach a commercial agreement on the amount to be paid, an intermediary will decide the figure.