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Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites, government to make amendments to media bargaining code

ABC Business logoABC Business 23/02/2021
Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg. © Getty Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Facebook will walk back its block on Australian users sharing news on its site after the government agreed to make amendments to the proposed media bargaining laws that would force major tech giants to pay news outlets for their content.

It follows days of negotiations between the government and the social media company, including discussions between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

"Mark Zuckerberg said to me today [restoring pages] will occur in coming days," Mr Frydenberg said.

The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can "designate" them, and force them to pay for access to news content.

The government promised to make further amendments to the code, including giving Facebook more time to strike those deals.

Last week Facebook stopped Australian users from sharing or posting news links in response to the code.

A number of non-news pages were swept up in the ban, including community organisations and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Facebook said in a statement that it was "pleased" the company was 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," it 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 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."

But the company's vice president Campbell Brown said Facebook was retaining its right to take Australian news content down again in the future.

Zuckerberg to engage with 'commercial players'

Mr Frydenberg thanked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for engaging in "constructive" discussions over the code, saying the company had "refriended" Australia. "It has been a difficult process, but these are really important issues," he said.

The Treasurer said Mr Zuckerberg had told him that he intended to sign commercial deals with news publishers.

"Facebook is now going to engage good faith negotiations with the commercial players," Mr Frydenberg said.

"They are pretty advanced with a number of parties."

He said he hoped businesses would "sit at the table" and hopefully sign off on the deals.

Mr Frydenberg also confirmed the government was looking to bring back its advertising on Facebook after withdrawing it in the wake of the news ban.

Facebook News service flagged for Australia

Seven West Media, Nine, News Corp and the Guardian have all struck content deals with Google to show their content on its News Showcase platform.

Seven West was the first to move after the announcement from the government and Facebook, saying it had signed a "letter of intent" with the tech company — sorting out the finer details of its deal in the next few months.

Facebook wants to bring its Facebook News service to Australia, but has yet to sign any deals with local publishers.

The amendments to the code include a range of changes, including that final offer arbitration — something both Google and Facebook were strongly opposed to — is considered "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".

Final offer arbitration would mean if a deal could not be reached, both the news publisher and the digital platform would present their proposed deals to an independent mediator, who would then pick one and that would become binding under law.

The Treasurer will also have to give advance notice to a platform if it is going to be "designated" or included under the code, and also has to take into account any deals the company has done.



Video: Facebook 'refriends' Australia after changes to media laws (Reuters)

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