Australia freezes Covid-19 vaccine ads on Facebook

Tanya Simon
February 26, 2021

Facebook last week abruptly blocked publishers and users in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and worldwide news content.

The architect of Australia's laws forcing Google and Facebook to pay media companies for content claimed victory on Wednesday (Feb 24) though critics said last-minute changes to appease Facebook favoured Big Tech over smaller news outlets.

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday (February 23) said that Facebook will restore the news pages after the government offered amendments to the proposed law which aims to make tech companies pay for the media content they host on their platforms.

The controversial Australian legislative proposal proposed that the Technology companies pay publishers when users publish their articles in compensation for the value that these articles generate on digital platforms.

The changes will serve to clarify how the bargaining code will be implemented and "add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations" to avoid triggering application of the code, the government said.

Also included are provisions for digital platforms to be notified of commercial designations, consideration over whether a particular digital platform has "made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry", and the implementation of a two month mediation period between the platform and media companies before entering into binding arbitration.

A Facebook representative declined to comment on Monday on the legislation, which passed the lower house last week and has majority support in the Senate.

Google and Facebook have resisted arbitration because it would give them less control over payment talks.

Facebook has agreed to lift its news-sharing ban in Australia after a tense stand-off with the government over new legislation.

The dispute led Facebook last week to block Australians from reading or sharing news stories.

Facebook : Fight Over Media Payments Shifts Focus to Europe
Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said last week that his company had pay negotiations with Facebook. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

"The Australian Government has been very clear on that principle".

In a statement, Facebook said that the company has reinstated the government pages, but it was the government that pushed it to take such a step in the first place.

Facebook's vice president of global news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a blogpost that the changes confirmed the USA company could decide which news, if any, appeared on its platform and that it could avoid forced arbitration.

"Facebook's action clearly demonstrates the value that it provides to the news sites and this will feature heavily in those "good faith negotiations", said Richard Windsor, a former Nomura telecom analyst and founder of independent researcher Radio Free Mobile.

Seven West Media announced it has signed a Letter of Intent to provide news to Facebook.

Jeff Jarvis, a journalism expert from the City University of NY, said media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who owns most of Australia's major newspapers through his U.S-based News Corp., is the biggest victor while smaller titles and new media startups would suffer most.

Facebook previously said the proposed law misunderstands the relationship between publishers and tech companies, and that it had little choice but to restrict news sharing rather than accept a law that ignores reality.

"There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing", Morrison said at a press conference in Sydney.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said it was important social media giants working in Australia complied with "the law of the land".

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