CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Facebook said Tuesday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after reaching an agreement with the Australian government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they agreed to amendments to the proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for the Australian news they present.
Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two gateways to the internet pay for the journalism they use. The company had blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday night.
The amended version of the proposed legislation would give digital platforms a month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code. That would give those involved more time to negotiate settlements before being forced to enter into the binding arbitration agreements required by the proposed law.
Initially, Facebook’s news blocking cut off access, at least temporarily, to the government’s emergency, public health and pandemic services, sparking public outrage.
A statement Tuesday from Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of news partnerships, said the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones.
“We are restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the next few days. Going forward, the government has clarified that we will retain the ability to decide whether the news appears on Facebook so that we are not automatically subjected to forced negotiation, “said Brown.
Frydenberg described the agreed amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult.”
“There is no question that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Frydenberg said.
“Facebook and Google have made no secret of the fact that they know the eyes of the world are on Australia and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is viable,” he added, referring to the proposed News Media Trading Code.
The code was designed to curb Facebook and Google’s negotiating dominance in their negotiations with Australian news providers by requiring a negotiation safety net in the form of an arbitration panel. The digital giants couldn’t abuse their overwhelming bargaining positions by making “take it or leave it” payment offers to news outlets for their journalism. In the event of a confrontation, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning bid.
Belinda Barnet, a senior media professor at Swinburne University, said the proposed amendments give Facebook time to reach agreements before the arbitration panel decides the price of the news.
Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology at the Australian Institute, a think tank, said in a statement that the “amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact.”
Google had also threatened to remove its Australian search functions because it said the proposed law was not feasible. But that threat has faded.
Google has been signing Australia’s largest media companies into content licensing agreements through its News Showcase model.
The platform says it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers around the world using the model that was released in October.
Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.
“We are pleased that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and assurances that address our primary concerns about enabling trade deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” said the director Facebook regional manager, William Easton said.
“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook to Australians in the coming days,” Easton added.