Facebook backs down on local news ban

Former Editor & Content Director

Facebook will bring back local news content for Australian users and media outlets after the Morrison Government agreed to some last-minute changes to its proposed media bargaining code.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, said it would restore news in the “coming days” after reaching the compromise with the Federal Government.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian Government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week,” Facebook said in a statement.

“We have consistently supported a framework that would encourage innovation and collaboration between online platforms and publishers. 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.”

The dramatic move by Facebook last week to cut off Australian publishers – and in turn consumers – from distributing and sharing news content came as the US-owned Facebook continued to posture in response to Federal Government intervention.

The Morrison Government had introduced legislation which could force Facebook into mandatory arbitration with news outlets, resulting in them having to pay for the news content which is shared and consumed on its platform.

Yet, the move by Facebook last week didn’t just hit publishers such as Nine and News Corp. Various lifestyle outlets, music festivals such as Splendour in the Grass, and even official Government health pages were temporarily wiped as the aggressive move took shape.

Radio outlets were also hit, but in an inconsistent manner.

The KIIS 1065 Facebook page, for example, was wiped, leaving its 687,652 followers with no content to view, however its page for Kyle & Jackie O, with 1.7 million followers, remained active. There was seemingly not much rhyme or reason to how radio stations, networks and their shows were affected by the move.

Today’s backdown comes as the Government amends the code.

Josh Frydenberg’s office said the amendments will provide further clarity.

“The Morrison Government will today introduce further amendments to the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code,” a statement said.

“These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated. These 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.”

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