Facebook says it will lift its Australian news ban soon

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) — Facebook said yesterday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after it struck a deal with Australia’s government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they have agreed on amendments to proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for Australian news that they feature.

Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two gateways to the Internet pay for the journalism that they use.

Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law on late Wednesday.

Initially, the Facebook news blockade cut access — at least temporarily — to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, sparking public outrage.

Frydenberg described the agreed upon amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult”.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Frydenberg said.

“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 added, referring to the country’s News Media Bargaining Code legislation.

The code would undermine the bargaining dominance of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers by requiring a negotiation safety net in the form of an arbitration panel.

The digital giants would not be able to abuse their overwhelming negotiating positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. In case of a standoff, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

Swinburne University senior lecturer on media Belinda Barnet said the proposed amendments guarantee Facebook time to strike deals before the arbitration panel decides on a price for news.

Director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology, a think tank, Peter Lewis said in a statement that the “amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact”.

Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable. But that threat has faded.

Google has been signing up Australia’s largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform said it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers globally using the model which was launched in October.