Facebook Refriends Australia, to Restore News Services Following a Deal with Government

Facebook Refriends Australia, to Restore News Services Following a Deal with Government

Facebook on Tuesday announced it is rescinding its decision to block news in Australia. The social media platform made the announcement after negotiating changes with the Australian government on the proposed legislation that would compel it to pay publishers for their news content.

In the past few weeks, Google and Facebook have been entangled in a brawl centered on payment for news outlets in the country. The conflict escalated when last week, Facebook decided to cut Australia off from its news services. The decision drew outrage both from the government and non-governmental organizations as it happened just when the Australian government was about to kick-off its COVID-19 vaccination.

The conflict was becoming an international issue as Canada and Britain are already considering similar laws to compel Google and Facebook to pay for news contents. But Facebook and Australia went back to the negotiation table. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reached a concession deal, and Facebook news services will return to Australia in coming days.

“Facebook has refriended Australia, and Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform” Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Australia has appeared to be spearheading the fight to protect the interest of news publishers, setting a possible template for other countries.

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“Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that’s why they have sought I think to get here that is workable,” Frydenberg said.

As part of the newly renegotiated terms, Australia has agreed to make four amendments, which include a change to the proposed mandatory arbitration mechanism to be used when the parties can’t reach a payment agreement.

Reuters reported that the amendments also provide more time for the parties to privately reach a deal, by including an additional two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes.

It also included a rule allowing for internet company’s existing media deals be taken into account before the rules take effect. Frydenberg said it would encourage internet companies to strike deals with smaller media outlets.

Facebook said it’s satisfied with the amendments, which give consideration to some of the concerns it raised.

“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 an online statement.

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She said the tech giant will continue to support news efforts globally but also “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.”

The amendments also underscore a shift from government’s earlier stand on the matter. Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier said that Australia will not back down from implementing the Media Bargaining Code, while Facebook argued that the Code does not reflect the true revenue value that news brings to its platform.

The amendments also apply to Google. Frydenberg said Google has welcomed the changes, and the competition regulator said the rules may likely govern other tech firms.

The two chambers of the Australian Parliament will need to approve the amendments before they become laws. Frydenberg said the amendments will be introduced to the parliament on Tuesday.

However, Australia seems to have ignited a movement that will disrupt the status quo in the tech and media market.

Microsoft, which has been working on the side to fill the gap in case Google makes true its threat to block news services in Australia, is now taking the campaign to Europe.

On Monday, the company said it would team up with media industry groups like the European Publishers Council to lobby for the policy in Europe.

Microsoft owns Bing, a web search engine operating in the shadows of Google. The company is counting on the current conflict to steal market share from Google, and wants the Media Bargain Code to become a global policy.

It said it would support the policy in every country where it is being debated. While Google has been working to stem the tide through its News Showcase, an initiative it created last year to compensate news publishers for their contents, Microsoft believes a legislation compelling tech companies to pay publishers is needed.

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