Facebook will restore its Australian news page once an agreement is reached to change the proposed law | Instant News

Facebook said on Tuesday it would lift its ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on its platform after reaching an agreement with the Australian government on a law that would make the digital giant pay for journalism.

The social media company has become alarmed by its sudden decision last week to block news on its platforms across Australia after the House passed the bill. Initially, the blackout also cut off access – at least temporarily – to the government pandemic, public health and emergency services, sparking outrage.

The Facebook partnership is a huge win in Australia’s bid to create two main gateways to the internet, Google and Facebook, paying for the journalism they use – a confrontation that has been closely watched by governments and technology companies around the world. Google also briefly threatened to remove its search functionality from Australia due to proposed legislation, but that threat has faded.

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

“Facebook and Google are not hiding the fact that they know that the world’s eyes are on Australia and that is why they are trying to get a code here that is workable,” he said, referring to the bill, the News Media Bargaining Code.

In fact, this week, Microsoft and four European publishing groups announced that they will work together to push Australian-style rules for news payments from tech platforms.

The laws are designed to curb Facebook and Google’s excessive bargaining power in their negotiations with Australian news providers. The digital giants will not be able to abuse their position by offering news businesses an accept or leave payment for their journalism. Conversely, in case of a deadlock, the arbitration panel will make a binding decision on the winning bid.

‘Difficult’ negotiations

Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that both parties agreed to the proposed amendments to the law. The changes will give digital platforms one month’s notice before they are officially assigned under code. That will give those involved more time for intermediary agreements before they are forced to enter into binding arbitration arrangements.

A statement Tuesday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for news partnerships, noted that the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local publishers.

“We are restoring the news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will maintain the ability to decide whether news appears on Facebook so that we do not automatically submit to forced negotiations,” Brown said.

WATCH | Facebook blocks Australian users from accessing and sharing news:

The Facebook feed in Australia was stripped of news posts during a battle over government plans to get the tech giant to pay for sharing news content and there are fears something similar could happen in Canada. 2:02

Frydenberg described the agreed amendments as “clarification” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult”.

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

A European publisher lobby group that is among those working with Microsoft said the deal shows that such legislation is possible – and not just in Australia.

“The latest changes prove that regulation works,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council. “Regulators from around the world will be assured that they can continue to draw inspiration from the determination of the Australian government to withstand an unacceptable threat from a strong commercial gatekeeper.”

Facebook said it would now negotiate a deal with an Australian publisher.

“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 recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said.

“As a result of this change, we can now work to continue our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.”

Google, meanwhile, has registered Australia’s largest media company in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform says it has handled more than 50 Australian titles and more than 500 publishers worldwide are using the model, which launched in October.

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