Australian media law: Facebook reinstates news but issues chilling warning


Facebook has reversed its controversial ban on Australian news a week after removing millions of posts but not without warning content could be taken down again at anytime.

The federal government’s landmark news media bargaining code received the final tick of approval on Thursday when parliament’s lower house agreed to the changes, which were made after negotiations with Facebook and Google.

The lifting on the ban came into effect 1am on Friday, allowing 17 million Australian Facebook users to read and share news again after a eight day ban.

The company’s vice-president Campbell Brown has warned Facebook retained its right to take Australian news content down again in the future.

It comes after a tumultuous battle between the Australian government and the tech giants who both threatened to limit services across the nation if the bill was passed. 

Facebook has agreed to restore Australian news on its site after agreeing to pay for content

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg described the bill  as a significant milestone. 

‘This legislation will help level the playing field & see Australian news media businesses paid for generating original content,’ he tweeted on Thursday.

The social media platform was condemned by politicians and users around the world after it blocked 25million Australians from viewing and sharing news articles on February 18 amid a dispute about the terms of the code. 

The ‘arrogant and disgraceful’ move – which also banned charity, health authority and emergency service pages – came after Australia’s ground-breaking news media bargaining code passed the lower house of Parliament on February 17. 

Following talks with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, the government made some last-minute changes to the law before it was finalised on Thursday which appeased the tech giant and convinced it to undo the ban.

Facebook has advised the government it will restore Australian news pages. Pictured: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with wife Priscilla Chan

Facebook has advised the government it will restore Australian news pages. Pictured: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with wife Priscilla Chan

‘Obviously that was a major engineering feat for them to wipe the Facebook platform of Australian news media content,’ Mr Frydenberg told 2GB on Thursday.

‘I think there was understandable outrage across the broader community as to what Facebook did.

‘But since that time there’s been extensive discussions with the company and we’ve reached a solution and a way forward.’

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese tried claim some of the credit.

‘The government and the opposition and this parliament have been prepared to take tough decisions,’ he told reporters.

‘We have been prepared to stand ground, to legislate for a code and to do that in order to defend Australia’s national interests and defend the jobs of journalists.

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured) held talks with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to overturn controversial ban on Australian news

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured) held talks with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to overturn controversial ban on Australian news

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims is confident the heavily amended code will still curtail the immense market power of digital platforms.

‘Google and Facebook need media but they don’t need any particular company and that (previously) meant media companies couldn’t do commercial deals with Facebook or Google,’ he told ABC radio on Thursday.

‘The purpose of the code is to give them the potential for arbitration, which helps their bargaining position, and therefore helps them reach fair commercial deals.’

So far, large media organisations including News Corp and Nine have been the main beneficiaries of deals struck with the online behemoths.

Google responded to the new law by striking multi-million deals but Facebook banned Australians from viewing news on its website last week in a 'disgraceful' protest at the new rules. Pictured: Posts were blocked on the Daily Mail Australia Facebook page

Google responded to the new law by striking multi-million deals but Facebook banned Australians from viewing news on its website last week in a ‘disgraceful’ protest at the new rules. Pictured: Posts were blocked on the Daily Mail Australia Facebook page 

Mr Sims is not surprised.

‘In any situation like this you would expect deals to be done with the bigger players first and then work down the list,’ he said.

‘Given this is supporting journalism, it’s naturally going to see more money going to those who’ve got the most journalists but I don’t see any reason why anybody should doubt that all journalism will benefit.’ 

Google threatened to pull its search engine from Australian users before backing down and striking multiple deals worth millions of dollars with media companies.

In recent weeks, it has brokered agreements with News Corp, Nine Entertainment, Guardian Australia and Seven West Media. 

Facebook signed an in-principle agreement with Seven West Media after the government agreed to change its landmark code. 

What is the bargaining code and why is it needed? 

WHY IS IT NEEDED?

Google and Facebook derive a benefit from the ability to make Australian news content available to their users.

Australian news businesses have had to accept commercial deals with the platforms that are less favourable than they would otherwise agree to.

Intervention is needed to address this imbalance because of the public benefit of news and the importance of a strong independent media in a well-functioning democracy.

For every $100 spent by Australian advertisers online today, $49 goes to Google and $24 to Facebook, according to the country’s competition watchdog. 

WHAT IS THE CODE?

The government wants good faith commercial deals to be struck outside the code.

But if the platforms and news organisations are unable or unwilling to reach an agreement ‘final offer arbitration’ will take place.

The arbiters will take into account the benefits traditional news media businesses get by having eyeballs on their product.

The digital platforms will also need to adhere to a series of minimum standards.

WHO IS INCLUDED?

* Facebook and Google.

* ABC, SBS and Australian commercial news media organisations.

Source: AAP 



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