Facebook news ban lifted in Australia

Facebook has lifted its ban on news after it blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing local or international news content, as a protest against paying for news.

The pages will return in coming days, and are as a result of ongoing discussions between the company’s boss Mark Zuckerberg and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

The tech giant has called a truce with the Morrison government, which is hopeful Facebook will now move quickly to sign commercial deals with news businesses.

Its move to ban news followed the passage of the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.

Mr Frydenberg has now reached an agreement with Facebook to amend the law – after days of negotiations with Mr Zuckerberg – which is expected to pass the parliament this week.

The changes will make it clear that the Treasurer’s decision to designate a platform to force it to negotiate with news outlets will depend on whether the platform has already reached commercial agreements with them.

Platforms will also be given one month’s notice if the government does intend to designate them under the code.

Mr Frydenberg, who spoke to Mr Zuckerberg several times, said the code maintains its key measures, and it is still a world leading mandatory code.

“I want to thank Mark Zuckerberg for the constructive nature of the discussions we have had over the course of recent days,” he said.

“It has been a difficult process, but these are really important issues.

“These are important issues because the purpose of the code and the purpose of the Morrison government’s intentions have been designed to sustain public interest journalism in this country.

“That is why we have sought to put this code and place, that is why the now prime minister then the Treasurer commissioned the ACCC to undertake this groundbreaking review a number of years ago.”

Mr Frydenberg said it was Mr Zuckerberg’s intention to do commercial deals.

“Facebook is now going to engage in good faith negotiations with the commercial players,” he added.

The news comes as Seven West Media struck a deal with Facebook, signing a letter of intent to provide news content to Facebook.

Seven West Media Chairman Kerry Stokes AC said: “The establishment of this new partnership with Facebook is a significant move for our business and reflects the value of our original news content across our successful metropolitan and regional broadcast, digital and print properties.

“On 15 February we announced a LOU for a partnership with Google, to provide news content to the Google Showcase product.

“Together, the two announcements are a strong recognition of the quality and credibility of our leading news brands and entertainment, and will enable us to continue to build our digital platform,” he said.

“These partnerships would not have been possible without the leadership and vision of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, and we thank them.”

Facebook’s Australian chief Will Easton said the company was pleased to reach a deal.

“We have consistently supported a framework that would encourage innovation and collaboration between online platforms and publishers,” he said.

“After further discussions, we are satisfied that 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 multibillion-dollar tech giant shocked its 17 million local users with the sweeping bans last week that impacted emergency services, TV stations, charities, state government departments, satire sites and music bands.

Facebook was forced to reinstate the posts of government pages, including health departments and weather services, after the ban wiped posts with essential information.

Efforts in Australia to make Google and Facebook pay for news has garnered worldwide attention, creating what some call a defining moment for the web and for journalism, and even a litmus test for democracy.

Mr Frydenberg said there was no doubt that Australia’s fight against the tech giants has been a “proxy battle” for the world.

“I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia, because of this innovative code, that the Australian government, the Morrison government is now pursuing, so 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,” he said.

“Clearly, they would have loved to continue to provide their technological services into the Australian market without the code being in place, but as Paul [Fletcher] and I know, we want Australian journalists who generate original content, should be remunerated for that, and that has been the purpose of the code and the commercial deals being struck between the parties has been a priority and the code is being designed to encourage those deals but obviously with a last resort, final offer arbitration model in the event that those deals are not reached.”

The European Commissioner for digital services, who is helping draw up new EU rules for online business, backed Australia in its dispute with web giant Facebook on Monday.

Thierry Breton, Brussels’ top official for the EU internal market, said Facebook had been wrong to kick Australian media off its service in a row about paying for news.

Separately, US tech titan Microsoft joined European media in calling for EU members states to follow Australia in setting up a mechanism to ensure that news publishers are paid.

The European Union has also passed a rule requiring internet “gatekeepers” like Google or Facebook to negotiate fees for including news stories and links.

Get link