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Facebook response to Australian news code brings condemnation from news media

Posted on: September 3, 2020 by Mariella Brown

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The UK’s News Media Association (NMA) as well as a number of regional and national news organisations in Australia have reacted strongly to the threat by Facebook that it will prevent the sharing of news content on its Australian services.

As the Society of Editors reported earlier this week, Facebook has reacted to proposals by the Australian Government to introduce a code that would force the digital giant as well as Google to negotiate payment for content.

The mandatory news code has been backed by major media companies in Australia including News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment and Guardian Australia.

In response to the announcement by Facebook, the UK’s NMA said it supported the Australian Government’s actions.

NMA deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson said: “Facebook’s threat to restrict the Australian public’s access to trusted and verifiable information during a worldwide pandemic shows exactly why robust intervention to curb the power of the tech giants is urgently needed. 

“If Facebook removed trusted news from its platforms, misinformation and bad actors would flourish and the harm to consumers would increase exponentially.

“We support the Australian authorities’ efforts to protect the public and news media sector from the tech giants’ harmful business practices and urge the UK Government to follow their lead by implementing the findings from the Competition and Market Authority’s report into the digital marketplace.” 

Facebook’s response brought condemnation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has proposed the new regulations.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said: “Facebook’s threat to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived.

“The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google.

“Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.”

Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the response was coercion.

“Australia makes laws that advance our national interest,” Frydenberg said. “We don’t respond to coercion or heavy-handed threats wherever they come from.”

A spokesperson for Country Press Australia, which represents 140 regional and local publications told Guardian Australia:  “Facebook has gone off half cocked; the ACCC is proposing a framework under which news media businesses and the digital platforms have the opportunity to negotiate, with an arbitration process if an outcome could not be agreed.”

“I understand they’re worried about it being so open-ended, but at this stage to say ‘we are going to cut news businesses off for Australian audiences’ is just preemptive and unnecessarily inflammatory when the process has just started.”

However, the Australian Government’s proposals have not found support from former prime minister Kevin Rudd who said they did nothing for media diversity and didn’t help public broadcasters.

And Private Media chairman Eric Beecher added: “The ACCC needs to go back to the drawing board to ensure the whole point of this exercise – to facilitate funding and ownership diversity for public interest journalism – is achieved in a workable way that gives certainty to both the platforms and news publishers.”

On Tuesday Facebook said plans revealed last month to explore rolling out its Facebook News project to the UK, where early talks on payment for news content was already underway, would be unaffected by the Australian debate.

In a statement, Facebook said: “Unfortunately, the proposed legislation in Australia has many serious flaws, and fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between the news media and social media.”