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Facebook Backtracks on Australian News Content Ban

Michael Behr

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Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Facebook has “re-friended Australia”.

Facebook has announced it will restore Australian users’ access to news content as it backs down in a feud with the country’s government.

The conflict concerned Australia’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code, which called for big tech companies to pay Australian news publishers for content that appeared on their platforms.

The move drew fierce criticism from Facebook and Google, who were the main targets of the law.

As the code passed Australia’s lower house and came closer to becoming law last week, Facebook and Google broke from each other and took different approaches. Facebook seemed to be holding fast to its opposition as it went ahead with plans to ban Australian users from seeing news content.

Now, Facebook’s ban will come to an end in the next few days after talks between Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg took place.

“After further discussions with the Australian government, we have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers,” said Facebook VP for Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown.

“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.

“It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally and 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.”

Both Google and Facebook had presented a united front against the code, with both threatening to ban Australian news content from their platforms. Google even started a test run that blocked about 1% of Australian users from seeing news content to determine the value of its service to Australian news outlets.

However, last week, Google began striking deals with a number of Australian media companies, including News Corp., Seven West and Nine Entertainment. A deal with state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. is also reported to be under negotiation.

The deals will see the companies signup for Google News Showcase, an app that will see the tech giant pay news companies in exchange for curated news lists. As such, it is unknown whether the deals will affect news appearing on Google’s search engine.

It appeared that Google’s tactic was to form deals on its own terms before it was obligated to do so by law.

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Like Google’s News Showcase, Facebook has developed the Facebook News Tab. This sees the company pay media organisations for stories displayed on the platform, though it is currently only available in the UK and US.

The code is currently being debated in Australia’s senate. According to Frydenberg, the law will receive some amendments.

The tech giants had pointed to concerns about government intervention in the free market in the advertising campaigns protesting the law.

Facebook also called for a six months’ grace period to negotiate deals with news companies directly before mandatory regulations apply. Meanwhile, Google claimed the move could see user data handed over to big businesses and warned that its free search service would be “at risk”.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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