Australian Leader Urges Facebook to Lift Its News Blockade

Elias Hubbard
February 19, 2021

Facebook said the proposed Australian law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it". "Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content. Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook".

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the minister responsible for the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, had a telephone conversation with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg after the blockade began on Thursday and again on Friday.

Unfortunately, Facebook's summary removal of news from Australian feeds has resulted in the removal of a large number of non-news organisations, including emergency services, government health departments, various charities, satirical comedy websites, video game publishers, and even a host of worldwide sports teams.

Another option is to follow the example of France, which requires large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content.

Mr. Guilbeault has said Canada is looking closely at the Australian and French models to guide Canada's legislation.

Last year, Facebook announced it would pay US news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today for headlines.

"I think they're nearly using Australia as a test of strength for global democracies as to whether or not they wish to impose restrictions on the way in which they do business", he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media in Sydney that Facebook's ban constituted a "threat".

The law establishing a media bargaining code was proposed by the government-run Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which found after a monthslong investigation that US technology companies Alphabet Inc., which owns Google, and Facebook hold too much power in the Australian media market. According to Google, it has an understanding with an Australian media company, News Corp, which owns media such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

Fire, health and meteorological services around the country were experiencing problems with their Facebook pages during several serious public emergencies, sparking angry calls for the firm to quickly fix the situation. Just as we weren't intimidated when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms.

However, it appears that Facebook is not willing to pay for news. The fight has become more pressing for the tech platforms as regulators in the United States, Australia and elsewhere consider new laws on the matter.

The California tech giant has been investing in news through its Facebook Journalism Project in a number of countries but has sought to avoid a mandatory scheme of paying for sharing links, saying it would set a bad precedent for the internet.

Facebook's hardball response contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with media groups, including one announced earlier in the day with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Google committed $1 billion over three years to the program.

News publishers saw Facebook's tactics as evidence that the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, can not be trusted as the gatekeeper for their industry.

The tech giant did also say it would reverse pages that are "inadvertently impacted".

A spokesman for the company said: "Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online".

Dan Stinton, managing director of Guardian Australia and New Zealand, which is negotiating a licensing deal through Google's News Showcase, said Google is not just paying for links and snippets within search but the "entire benefit" that Google receives from engagement with users utilizing its search.

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson thanked Google CEO Sundar Pichai and his team for showing a "thoughtful commitment to journalism that will resonate in every country".

So it looks like the collateral damage of Facebook silencing scores of public information pages is at least partly a PR tactic to illustrate potential "consequences" of lawmakers forcing it to pay to display certain types of content - i.e.to "encourage" a rethink while there's still time.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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