CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Facebook announced Tuesday that it would lift the ban on Australians from viewing and sharing news on its platform after reaching an agreement with the government on proposed legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
The social media company caused alarm with its sudden decision last week to block news on its platform in Australia after the House of Representatives passed the bill. Initially, the blackout also cut off access, at least temporarily, to government emergency, public health and pandemic services, fueling outrage.
Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australia’s efforts to make two major internet portals, Google and Facebook, pay for the journalism they use, a showdown that governments and tech companies around the world have watched. close up. Google had also threatened to remove its Australian search features due to the proposed law, but that threat has faded.
“There is no question that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
“Facebook and Google have not hidden that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that is why they have sought to find a viable code here,” he added, referring to the bill, News Media. Trading code.
In fact, this week, Microsoft and four European publishing groups announced they would work together to push for Australian-style rules for news payments from technology platforms.
The legislation was designed to curb the enormous bargaining power of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers. The digital giants could not abuse their positions by making “take it or leave it” paid offers to news outlets for their journalism. Instead, in the event of a confrontation, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning bid.
Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that the two parties agreed to amendments to the proposed legislation. The changes 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 agreements before being forced to enter into binding arbitration agreements.
A statement Tuesday from Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of news partnerships, added that the agreement 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.”
A lobby group of European publishers who are among those who partner with Microsoft said the deal shows such legislation is possible, and not just in Australia.
“The latest twist shows that regulation works,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Council of Editors. “Regulators around the world will feel confident that they can continue to be inspired by the Australian government’s determination to resist unacceptable threats from powerful trade gatekeepers.”
Facebook said it would now negotiate deals with Australian publishers.
“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.
Meanwhile, Google has been signing Australia’s largest media companies into content license agreements through its News Showcase. The platform says it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles and more than 500 publishers around the world who use the model, which was launched in October.
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.”
However, others took a more skeptical stance. Jeff Jarvis, a journalism expert at the City University of New York, said that media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns most of Australia’s major newspapers through the US-based News Corp. , Is the biggest winner, while smaller titles and media startups would be hit the hardest. .
Jarvis said Murdoch’s media empire was the driving force behind the Australian legislation, which he noted includes a requirement for media companies to earn at least A $ 150,000 ($ 119,000) in revenue to be eligible.
“So a startup that has no revenue has no real resource,” Jarvis said, adding that even if Facebook and Google open payment conversations with smaller companies, “clearly a smaller player has less influence than a larger player. , that News Corp. “
Associated Press journalist Kelvin Chan contributed to this report from London.