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Facebook has told the federal government that it will end its ban on news pages in Australia less than a week after it made the shock decision to prevent the country’s users from viewing or sharing articles on its platform.
“Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform, and Facebook has committed to entering into good faith negotiations with Australian news media businesses and seeking to reach agreements to pay for content,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters on Tuesday, 23rd of February.
It was only last Thursday that the social media giant blocked all Australian news pages from sharing content and links to Australian news sources – a response to the proposed media bargaining laws that would make it and Google pay publishers for content.
The ban, which resulted in a global backlash, also affected more than 100 non-news sites including government health and emergency pages which Facebook said had been “inadvertently impacted.”
”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,” Facebook Vice President of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown said in the company’s announcement.
“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.”
Changes to the code
In a statement on Tuesday, the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would make further changes to the proposed media code and that new commercial deals would encourage a “fairer” negotiation process between publishers and the major digital platforms.
The new changes mean that the code may not apply to Facebook if the company can show it has signed enough deals with news publishers to pay them for content.
In the event that the code is enforced, Facebook and other platforms subject to it would be given one month’s notice to comply.
Where commercial deals cannot be agreed upon, arbitration would be a last resort and mediation would occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.
“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 statement reads.
In his talks with the Treasurer, Mr Zuckerberg had expressed an intention to engage in good faith negotiations and to sign commercial deals with news publishers.
“Lets just see what happens in coming days in respect to commercial deals. That certainly was the intention from Mark Zuckerberg, as he explained [it] to me, was to do commercial deals, and they were pretty advanced with a number of parties … ahead of their actions last Thursday and obviously that was interrupted, and now they have re-engaged with the parties,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand Managing Director William Easton said the company was “pleased” to be able to reach an agreement with the government.
“[We] appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week,” Mr Easton said.
“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 recognize 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.”
Google made a series of deals with Australian media companies last week, including Seven, Nine, News Corp and Guardian Australia, and could spend up to $150 million annually under the new agreements – a figure that could easily reach $250 million with Facebook on board.