Facebook brings back news after Australian government amends upcoming law

February 23, 2021
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Facebook will restore news content to its platform in Australia after the government agreed to amend its proposed News Media Bargaining Code. In an update posted today, Facebook’s William Easton, managing director of Australia and New Zealand, said that the company is “satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns.” News content will return to the platform “in the coming days,” Easton said.

Facebook and Google have been at loggerheads with the Australian government about an upcoming law that will require them to pay publishers for content shared on their platforms. In response to the proposed bargaining code, Facebook took the extreme measure last week of blocking news from being shared on its platform by Australian users and publishers.

The amendments, which were outlined in a release from the Australian government, include giving tech companies and publishers two months to reach agreements with one another, which The New York Times notes appears to give Facebook more time to strike deals, similar to those reached by Google.

Another amendment notes that the government should take into account whether a tech company has already reached commercial agreements with the Australian news industry. The NYT notes that this opens the door to Facebook and Google to avoid the most feared aspects of the bargaining code by signing more media to their respective Facebook News and Google News Showcase products.

The big US tech companies are particularly concerned about the law forcing them into arbitration with news companies if they can’t reach a deal. They claim this arbitration process underestimates the value their services provide to news publishers, such as web traffic that can then be monetized with ads.

In a statement, Facebook’s vice president of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown said the Australian 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.” She added that it means Facebook can “support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers.”

Responding to the deal, Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said “Facebook has committed to entering into good-faith negotiations with Australian news media businesses and seeking to reach agreements to pay for content,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

While Facebook took the extreme step of blocking all news in the country in response to the law, Google has been busy brokering deals with the country’s news publishers to pay them as part of its News Showcase product. As part of the product, Google is also making deals with international publishers to cover other publications around the world. Initially, Google had also threatened to withdraw services from Australia.

With the amendments signed off on Tuesday morning, the Sydney Morning Herald notes that the legislation could pass through the country’s Parliament as soon as Wednesday.



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