Facebook Reaches Deal with News Corp Australia, Allaying Fears of Another News Ban

Image Courtesy of Alex Proimos

After weeks of a stalemate in negotiations between Australian media outlets and Facebook, the tech giant has agreed to pay media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s company News Corp Australia, in exchange for being able to share its journalism on its platform. News Corp owns major national news publications like The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, along with cable television channel Sky News Australia. 

Facebook implemented a ban on sharing news articles in Australia in mid-February. The ban was a retaliatory move against the passing of a draft law requiring Facebook and Google to pay Australian news sources for the journalism shared on their platforms. After two weeks of negotiations with the government to amend the draft law, the company lifted the ban late last month.

The ban also restricted access to information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency services, which sparked criticism at a time when the country is undertaking its mass vaccination campaign.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the move in a post on his Facebook account, criticizing powerful tech companies and their gain of influence and interference in the dissemination of information. His account was not affected by the ban, according to CNN.  

“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them … they may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it,” Morrison said in the post.

Australia’s proposed media law serves to curb Facebook and Google’s disproportionately powerful “bargaining powers” when Australian media outlets choose to negotiate payment for the news promoted on their platforms, according to the Associated Press. But Facebook and Google see the debate in a “controversial” light as Facebook said the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it.” 

Though the ban was temporary, the Australian government sought out potential amendments while tech companies began negotiating deals with Australian media outlets. Google signed licensing content deals with major Australian media companies like Seven West Media and News Corp by using its News Showcase model, while Facebook has yet to make a deal with any major companies.  

Facebook agreed to the Australian government’s amendments to the media law such as digital platforms choosing which news sources to support and receiving one month’s notice before they have to pay a news source for their content. The one-month notice allows time for social media platforms to negotiate terms before they enter binding agreements. 

Australian Parliament Treasurer Josh Frydenberg characterized negotiations with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as “difficult.” However, Facebook Regional Managing Director William Easton said the company was “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.” 

Sources close to the negotiations said that Facebook was either freezing media companies out or refusing to budge on key clauses, The Guardian reported right before News Corp and Facebook reached a deal.. This approach to negotiations sparked fears that the tech company was considering backing out and reinstating the ban again.

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