FILE - This March 29, 2018, file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. Facebook said on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, it lift its ban on Australians sharing news after a deal was struck on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Unfriended no more: Facebook to lift Australia news ban

Social media giant strikes deal to pay for journalism in battle with global repercussions

Facebook announced Tuesday that it would lift a ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on its platform after it struck a deal 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 across Australia after the House of Representatives passed the draft law. Initially, the blackout also cut access — at least temporarily — to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, fueling outrage.

Facebook’s co-operation is a major victory in Australia’s efforts to make two major gateways to the internet, Google and Facebook, pay for the journalism that they use — a faceoff that governments and tech companies the world over have watched closely. Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because of the proposed law, but that threat has faded.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

RELATED: Facebook’s blocking news links in Australia ‘irresponsible’: Guilbeault

RELATED: Canada’s five big banks join anti-hate advertising boycott of Facebook

“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 added, referring to the bill, the News Media Bargaining 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 tech platforms.

The legislation was designed to curb the outsized bargaining power of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that the two sides agreed to amendments to the proposed legislation. The changes would give digital platforms one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code. That would give those involved more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration arrangements.

A statement Tuesday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice-president for news partnerships, added that the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones.

“We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. 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,” Brown said.

Frydenberg described the agreed upon amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult.”

A European publishers’ lobbying group that is among those teaming up with Microsoft said the deal shows such legislation is possible — and not just in Australia.

“The latest twist proves that regulation works,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council. “Regulators from around the world will be reassured that they can continue to take inspiration from the Australian government’s determination to withstand unacceptable threats from powerful commercial gatekeepers.”

Facebook said it would now negotiate deals with Australian publishers.

“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 recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director 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 for Australians in the coming days, ” Easton added.

Google, meanwhile, has been signing up Australia’s largest media companies in content-licensing deals through its News Showcase. The platform says it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles and more than 500 publishers globally using the model, which was launched in October.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology, 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 from the City University of New York, said media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who owns most of Australia’s major newspapers through his U.S-based News Corp., is the biggest winner while smaller titles and new media startups would suffer most.

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 150,000 Australian dollars ($119,000) in revenue to be eligible.

“So a startup which has no revenue has no real recourse,” Jarvis said, adding that even if Facebook and Google open payment talks with smaller companies, “clearly a smaller player has less clout than a bigger player, than a News Corp.”

— Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press. Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan contributed to this report from London.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. Black Press file photo
No new COVID-19 cases for Nakusp

Our community has not had a case since January; has only had three in total since pandemic started

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Most Read