Tuesday, 23 February 2021 16:19

Govt climbs down, Facebook to restore Australian news pages Featured

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Govt climbs down, Facebook to restore Australian news pages Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Social media giant Facebook has agreed to restore Australian news content in "coming days" after the Federal Government made additional amendments to the news media code bill that is currently in the Senate.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a media conference in Canberra on Tuesday afternoon that the new amendments to the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code would be introduced today.

"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," he said in a statement.

A two-month mediation period will give both sides more time to negotiate commercial deals that could help Facebook avoid having to work under provisions of the Code.

Last Thursday, Facebook said it would restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content, adding that this was in response to the news media code being passed by the House of Representatives the previous night.

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In a blog post, William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said the law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

"It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter."

bom page restored

The Bureau of Meteorology Facebook page with its news feed restored. Screenshot taken at 5.20am on Wednesday.

Frydenberg said on Tuesday the new amendments would make it clear that:

  • a decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform had made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses;
  • a digital platform would 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 would 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 would be a last resort where commercial deals could not be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.

Easton said on Tuesday: “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.”

Added Frydenberg: "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.

"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."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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