Facebook and Australia become 'friends' again after reforms in media laws
April 21, 2021

Facebook and Australia become ‘friends’ again after reforms in media laws

CANBERRA (AUSTRALIA) – Facebook said on Tuesday it will restore Australian news pages after negotiating changes with the government to a proposed law that forces tech giants to pay for media content displayed on their platforms.

Australia and the social media group have been entangled in a standoff for more than a week after the government introduced legislation posing a threat for Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google’s dominance in the news content market.

But after a series of talks between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, both parties have reached a concession deal, with Australian news likely to return to the social media site in coming days.

“Facebook has refriended Australia, and Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform,” Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Frydenberg said Australia had been a “proxy battle for the world” as other jurisdictions get involved with tech companies taking into consideration a range of issues around news and content.

Australia’s proposed laws are the most expansive and are considered as a possible format for other nations.

Frydenberg said, “Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that’s why they have sought I think to get a code here that is workable.”

Australia will put forth four amendments, which include a reform to the proposed mandatory arbitration mechanism put to use when the tech giants fail to zero in on a deal with publishers over payment for displaying news content, on a fair basis.

Facebook said it was contented with the revisions, which will need to be enforced in legislation currently before the parliament.

Facebook Vice President of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown said in a statement online, “Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation.”

She said the company would continue to bank on news globally but also “resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook.”

The government had up until Monday stuck with its stand that it would not change the legislation.

The amendments comprises an additional two-month mediation period before the intervention of government-appointed arbitrator, giving the parties some more time to strike a private deal.

A rule, which is included is that an internet company’s existing media deals be considered before the rules come into effect, a measure that Frydenberg said would allow internet companies to strike deals with smaller outlets.

The so-called Media Bargaining Code has been designed by the government and competition regulator to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers when negotiating payment for news content used on the tech firms’ sites.

Media companies have argued that they should receive compensations for the links that capture the attention of the audiences, and advertising dollars, towards the platforms of internet companies.

A spokesman for Australian publisher and broadcaster Nine Entertainment Co Ltd welcomed the government’s compromise, which it said moved “Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations.”

Major television broadcaster and newspaper publisher Seven West Media Ltd said it had signed a letter of intent to agree upon a content supply deal with Facebook in 60 days.

The proposed code will be applicable for Facebook and Google, although the competition regulator, which urged government regarding the legislation, has said that there are chances that other tech firms will be added.

Tama Leaver, professor of internet studies at Australia’s Curtin University, said Facebook’s negotiating tactics had tainted its reputation, although it was an early stage to say how the proposed law would be worked out.

“The law itself remains untested. It’s like a gun that sits in the Treasurer’s desk that hasn’t been used or tested,” said Leaver.

Frydenberg said Google had welcomed the changes.

The government will introduce the amendments to Australia’s parliament on Tuesday, Frydenberg said. The country’s two houses of parliament will need to approve the amended proposal before it becomes law.

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