News to remerge on Facebook in Australia after deal struck with government

It follows the social media giant waving its banhammer across anything considered 'news' on Thursday.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australians will soon have access to news restored across Facebook, following a deal struck between the social media giant and the federal government on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Facebook decided to make good on its threat to block Australian news on its platform, as a consequence of the News Media Bargaining Code that is making its way through the Australian Senate.

Facebook took issue with the code that aims to address the bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms. It said last week the code ignored the realities of its relationship with publishers and news creators.

But on Tuesday, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said that block would be overturned.

"The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days," they said in a statement.

"Facebook is now going to engage in good faith negotiations, with the commercial players," the Treasurer added during a press conference.  

"Facebook has re-friended Australia."

In a blog post, Facebook's Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton said news would be restored in the coming days.

"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 wrote.

"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.

"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."

Frydenberg and Fletcher's statement detailed a handful of amendments that the government will make to the code.

The first, they said, makes it clear that 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 agreement with news media businesses.

The code in the first instance will apply to Google and Facebook, with the Treasurer able to designate further companies under the code. The second amendment will see the digital platform notified of the government's intention to designate prior to any decision, no sooner than one month before it is due to commence.

"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," the third amendment reads.

The fourth and final amendment states final arbitration is the last resort for when commercial deals cannot be reached through mediation.

"Ahead of the formal arbitration process will be a period of up to two months for a mediation. There already is an up to three-month period for a negotiation and if that is not successful, then it moves to an up to two-month period for negotiation ahead of final offer arbitration," Frydenberg said during a press conference.

"Critically, the code maintains its key measures.

"It's no doubt Australia has been a proxy battle for the world. I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia because of this innovative code."

Frydenberg said the government is also going to bring its advertising back to Facebook.

Instead of moving forward with the threat to pull its search engine, Google has signed a number of deals with media organisations in Australia, on Monday boasting it has Google News Showcase arrangements with over 50 Australian titles.

Frydenberg said he spoke with Google ahead of this afternoon's announcement and that the search giant said they were "sensible".   

Updated Tuesday 23 February 2021 at 4:45pm AEDT: Added comments from press conference and clarified amendments.


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