Facebook asks Australian news sites to be friends again

Facebook asks Australian news sites to be friends again

The Australian Government has struck a deal with social media giant Facebook within a week of its unceremonious blocking of news sites, emergency services, government health pages and charities.

After the California-based company used limiting Australians' access to useful sources of information as a bargaining chip against the government's media bargaining code, both parties were able to find a compromise.

Facebook had already reactivated numerous non-news pages that were blocked by its broad-reaching algorithms, but now it is set to also restore Australian news pages in the coming days. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher have issued a statement claiming new amendments to the code will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses, while strengthening the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated.

"Importantly, the amendments will strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms," they said.

"The Explanatory Memorandum will confirm that the Code only applies to the extent a digital platform is making covered news content available through those services.

"These amendments also add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations outside the Code - a central feature of the framework that the Government is putting in place to foster more sustainable public interest journalism in Australia."

Frydenberg and Fletcher highlighted the amendments will make it clear that:

  • a decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses;
  • a digital platform will be notified of the Government's intention to designate prior to any final decision - noting that a final decision on whether or not to designate a digital platform would be made no sooner than one month from the date of notification;
  • non-differentiation provisions will not be triggered because commercial agreements resulted in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arose in the course of usual business practices; and
  • final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.

Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director William Easton has confirmed an agreement has been reached with the Australian government, and highlights the company's appreciation of constructive discussions with Frydenberg and Fletcher over the past week.

"We have consistently supported a framework that would encourage innovation and collaboration between online platforms and publishers," Easton says.

"After further discussions, 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 recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.

"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."

Simon Wilkie, head of Monash Business School, argues small publishers tend to be the most affected by this kind of behaviour from social media giants, drawing on the experience of Google News' withdrawal from Spain in 2014.

In an article published in The Conversation today, Wilkie argues the focus of the code should be on small publishers, rather than the larger news organisations.

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