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News, February 2020
Facebook Refriends Australia After Last-Minute Changes to Media Code
February 23, 2020
Facebook refriends Australia after last-minute changes to media code
The Sydney Morning Herald, February 23, 2021
Facebook has agreed with Seven West Media to pay for news content and has restarted negotiations with Nine Entertainment Co, after the social media giant agreed to reverse its ban on news on its Australian site.
The Morrison government agreed to last-minute changes to its proposed media bargaining code on Tuesday in order to bring Facebook back to the negotiating table with news companies. The amendments pave the way for Google and Facebook to avoid the code altogether if they can satisfy the government they have struck enough deals outside it.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has spoken to global Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg multiple times in recent weeks in a bid to address the company’s concerns with the news media bargaining code.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said amendments to the code had been brokered during intensive negotiations with Facebook’s global chief, Mark Zuckerberg. The company last week banned Australian users from sharing or viewing news articles in protest against the proposed laws, but Facebook agreed to reverse the decision on Tuesday.
“Facebook has refriended Australia. 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,” Mr Frydenberg said on Tuesday.
The government’s intention has been for the code to act as an incentive for tech companies to strike deals with media providers without government intervention.
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes announced on Tuesday evening the company had signed a letter of intent with Facebook for the use of its news content.
“The establishment of this new partnership with Facebook is a significant move for our business and reflects the value of our original news content across our successful metropolitan and regional broadcast, digital and print properties,” Mr Stokes said.
Industry and government sources said Nine has restarted negotiations with Facebook. News Corp and the Guardian Australia have also resumed talks with the social media giant.
A spokesman for Nine said it was “pleased” with the breakthrough and looked forward to “constructive discussions resuming” with Facebook.
The amendments were signed off by the Coalition party room on Tuesday morning, clearing the way for the legislation’s passage through Parliament as soon as Wednesday.
Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton said the amendments addressed the company’s core concerns.
“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public-interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” he said.
The amendments require the Treasurer to take into account whether the digital platforms have already struck commercial agreements with news publishers before passing further regulation to make the code formally apply to them.
In the event the Treasurer decides to enforce the code, the tech giants must be given one month’s notice.
Another change will add a two-month mediation period into the code to give the parties more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter a binding final-offer arbitration process. This comes on top of the existing three-month negotiation period.
The code’s non-differentiation provisions, which could see the tech giants fined as much as $10 million for punishing news businesses that participate in the code, will also be clarified to ensure they are not triggered as a result of the publishers securing different types of deals or remuneration.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice-president of global news partnerships, said in a statement the changes allowed the company “to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers”. However, she indicated the company was prepared to reinstate a ban in the future.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he “won’t back down” during talks with Mark Zuckerberg over the Facebook news ban.
“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,” she said.
The code, which is backed by Labor and will become law, sets out a framework for forcing Google and Facebook to broker commercial deals with media companies for the value they obtain from having news content on their platforms. Facebook and Google have both fiercely resisted the code, describing it as “unworkable” and threatening to curtail their services in Australia if it passed unamended.
Google threatened to cut off search in Australia in protest against the code, but later struck multimillion-dollar deals with major Australian publishers, including Nine Entertainment Co, which owns this masthead, for the use of their content.
Mr Frydenberg said Mr Zuckerberg had assured him Facebook’s intention was to reach deals with Australian news outlets and its negotiations were “pretty well advanced” with a number of publishers.
Facebook attempted to restart negotiations with Nine and News Corp late last week, but the parties have been unable to resolve an impasse over Facebook’s demand for a so-called “poison pill” clause. The clause would allow Facebook to terminate the deals struck with publishers at any time, including once the new laws were passed.
Facebook reverses Australia news ban after government makes media code amendments
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announces a compromise has been reached at the 11th hour as the legislation is debated in the Senate
Why is Australia trying to regulate Google and Facebook?
By Amanda Meade, Josh Taylor, and Daniel Hurst
The Guardian, Mon 22 Feb 2021 23.57 EST
Facebook will restore news to Australian pages in the next few days after the government agreed to change its landmark media bargaining code that would force the social network and Google to pay for displaying news content.
Last week, Facebook blocked all news on its platform in Australia, and inadvertently blocked information and government pages, including health and emergency services.
The ban on news created shockwaves, with the action viewed as a direct message to the rest of the world against embarking on similar regulation of the technology giant.
The historic banning of news on Australian pages came during escalating tensions over legislation that would force the tech giants to negotiate a fair payment with news publishers for using their content.
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and communications minister Paul Fletcher announced on Tuesday a compromise had been reached at the 11th hour as the legislation was being debated in the Senate.
The changes mean the government may not apply the code to Facebook if the company can demonstrate it has signed enough deals with media outlets to pay them for content. The government has also agreed that Facebook and other platforms which would be subject to the code would be given a month’s notice to comply.
Facebook’s Australian managing director, Will Easton, confirmed news would be restored in Facebook newsfeeds in Australia “in the coming days” following the agreement with the government over changing the code.
“We’re 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 minister Fletcher over the past week,” he said in a blog post.
“After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”
If the government were to later decide to apply the code to Facebook, the company’s global VP for partnerships, Campbell Brown, on Tuesday indicated the company could pull news from Australia again.
“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.”
News publishers would not expect to get similar deals under the changes, meaning smaller publishers could get more per article, without larger publishers being able to trigger non-differentiation clauses in the legislation to demand a better deal.
“Importantly, the amendments will strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms,” Frydenberg said.
Frydenberg said Facebook was “pretty well advanced” in negotiating deals with a number of media companies. He said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg had told him the company had now re-engaged in negotiations with media outlets.
On Tuesday evening, Seven West Media, which owns the West Australian newspaper and the Seven TV network, became the first Australian media company to sign a letter of intent to provide news content to Facebook. Details and the value of the deal were not disclosed in the announcement.
Frydenberg said Australia had been a “proxy battle” for the rest of the world on the regulation of Google and Facebook.
“I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia, because of this innovative code the Morrison government is now pursuing, so Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is workable,” he said.
Australia’s biggest locally-owned media company, Nine Entertainment, welcomed the amendments and said it looked forward to resuming talks with Facebook about a commercial arrangement.
“We are pleased the government has found a compromise on the digital code legislation to move Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations,” a Nine spokesman said.
Nine had rejected all of Facebook’s offers because they were voided if the media code became law.
The director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology Peter Lewis said on face value it seemed the integrity of the code remained.
“This whole episode should give Australians pause to reflect on our over reliance on Facebook to connect with each other,” Lewis said.
The government said under the changes:
• A decision to designate a platform under the code must take 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.
• A digital platform will be notified of the government’s intention to designate prior to any final decision – noting that a final decision on whether or not to designate a digital platform would be made no sooner than one month from the date of notification.
• Non-differentiation provisions will not be triggered because commercial agreements resulted in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arose in the course of usual business practices.
• Final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.
Facebook's capitulation in Australia is the beginning of the project to regulate Big Tech – not the end
By Peter Lewis
The Guardian, February 23, 2021
The social network’s hostile attack on Australian users reinforces the need to tackle the monopoly power of tech giants
Facebook will restore news to Australian pages after the government agreed to change its landmark media bargaining code that would force the social network and Google to pay for displaying news content.
Over the past few days Australians have gotten a flavour of what a global tech power will do to avoid regulation.
Now we are getting an idea of what a world-class capitulation looks like after Facebook agreed to re-friend Australia after securing what appears to be technical changes to legislation it had been determined to skewer.
When Facebook hit the nuclear button last week and took out not just news pages, but civil society, government, public health and even domestic violence sites, it had been wanting to send the world the message: Don’t mess with us.
The message received was very different: We are bullies who are prepared to treat our users as pawns in our commercial games. With global pushback to Facebook’s hostile attack on Australian users, and its news purge drawing condemnation, it was time to sue for peace.
A week ago, Facebook was telling media companies they would not do any deal if the news media bargaining code became law. Now it appears to accept the right of Australia’s elected representatives to set the rules.
The amendments it has secured extend the notice period before Facebook would be subject to the code, which is designed to address monopoly power by forcing the social media giant to fund public interest journalism.
Whether or not they will be designated to the code, that prospect is now live and set to be embedded in Australian law.
Who knows if there are other commitments in the multiple calls between Mark Zuckerberg and the treasurer? Like too much of this process, public interest negotiations have gone on behind closed doors.
What we do know is that the first step in the broader digital platform process laid out by competition commission chair Rod Sims will become law and Facebook and Google will comply with its provisions after threatening to pack up and go back to Silicon Valley.
There are still issues to be resolved. While the major publishers have secured payment form Google, the plight of small publishers earning over $150,000 per annum needs to be finalised.
It appears the treasurer will use his discretion to bring the platforms into the code as leverage to ensure these negotiations are continued – but pressure will need to be maintained.
The 12-month review of the code and ongoing oversight by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will also be critical in ensuring that money paid actually goes to journalists and not shareholders.
There will also be a critical test of the resolve of government and media to support the balance of the Sims reform program: a timely review of consumer data privacy, consideration of the creepy world of ad-tech and pushing the tech platforms to toughen up their handling of misinformation and disinformation.
For Facebook and Google, the message is clear: this is the beginning of the project to regulate Big Tech in the public interest and not the end.
Meanwhile, this whole episode should give Australians pause to reflect on our overreliance on Facebook to connect with each other. In recent days, I’ve been reminded of how reliant the progressive movement in particular is on the platform in building and running their advocacy and fundraising campaigns.
To make democracy stronger we need to imagine our own networks – not outsource it to global advertising monopolies.
The whole point of the ACCC’s platform reform agenda is to address the monopoly power of the big tech companies and their behaviour. The past week has just reinforced why this work is so important.
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