Facebook has reinstated news for Australian users after a world-first media law was passed. But the drama isn’t over yet.
Australian news is back on Facebook after the social media giant agreed to reinstate the pages it controversially banned.
News.com.au’s Facebook page is back up and running, as are those of other media outlets, and Australian users can now share news links on the platform again.
The eight-day blackout ended at 1am AEDT on Friday morning after Facebook reached an agreement with the Federal Government over a new media law.
Digital platforms including Facebook and Google will be forced to pay for news under the world-first legislation that passed on Thursday.
The Government agreed to several amendments demanded by the tech firms, in return for them agreeing to negotiate paid deals with Australian media — a huge step that could provide a template for countries across the world.
LIFTING THE NEWS BAN
Facebook abruptly removed news from its platform for Aussie users last Thursday morning in response to the proposed media bargaining law, which aimed to force internet giants to pay publishers for content.
Australians were left unable to link to any news articles while Aussie news pages were completely suspended.
But the move dramatically backfired, with the pages of many charities, small businesses and vital public services also suspended in the middle of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
On Tuesday, Facebook confirmed it would lift the blackout for Australian users and publishers after reaching an agreement with the Government.
RELATED: Facebook ban stuns experts
“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.
He thanked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “for the constructive nature of the discussions we have had over the course of recent days”, adding that “it has been a difficult process, but these are really important issues.”
Mr Frydenberg said the Morrison Government’s intentions with the media bargaining code were to “sustain public interest journalism in this country”. He said there was “no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world”.
He noted that “many other countries are looking at what is happening” in Australia.
Facebook said in a statement that it was “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 (Communications) Minister (Paul) Fletcher over the past week”.
RELATED: Google’s search video backfires
Mr Frydenberg said that amendments to the media code would “strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content” and provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses on how the code can “operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated.”
The amendments included taking “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,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg told 2GB radio yesterday that the company’s decision came after “extensive discussions” with the government, adding: “We’ve reached a solution and a way forward.”
THE NEW WORLD
Both Facebook and Google were concerned that new law could set a precedent for other countries to demand that news businesses are paid for providing content.
Google previously threatened to prevent Australians from using its search function if the plan went ahead, and Facebook has said the law “fundamentally misunderstands” how its platform interacts with publishers who share news content.
The Government maintains that digital platforms have fundamentally shifted the way media content is produced and accessed and that tech giants wield too much power over the market, benefiting from journalism that appears on their platforms without fairly compensating the outlets that create it.
Facebook and Google have each said they will invest around US$1 billion in news around the world over the next three years.
News Corp last week reached a global licensing deal with Google to make “significant payments” for displaying its content across the world on its Google News Showcase.
Facebook has said more negotiations with media companies are planned. It is expected to pay providers who appear on its “News” feature, which is due to be rolled out in Australia later this year.
The company has faced heavy criticism for rolling out its ban on Australian news outlets and other organisations — including government departments.
Charities and support services including Save the Children Australia, Bowel Cancer Australia, RACQ LifeFlight, and the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre were taken down as Facebook started removing “a broad definition” of news content — showing just how many vital services have come to rely on social media to communicate.
Media experts blasted Facebook’s move as “reckless,” “dangerous” and an “epic dummy spit,” and said the multibillion-dollar tech firm had unwittingly provided “the strongest argument we’ve ever had for regulation”. The firm was likened to North Korea as politicians demanded rapid action over the “assault on Australia”, and a grief-stricken family lashed out as Hannah Clarke’s charity page was wiped a day before the anniversary of her killing.
Stephen Scheeler, the former CEO of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, urged users to delete the social network’s app, calling the tech giant’s move “an act of war”.