Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals

Facebook blocked all news content in Australia a week ago.
Facebook blocked all news content in Australia a week ago.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday (Feb 26) and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers. 

The moves reflected easing tensions between the US company and the Australian government, a day after the country’s Parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms. 

The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail.

Canada and other countries have shown interest in replicating Australia’s reforms. 

"Global tech giants, they are changing the world but we can’t let them run the world," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, adding that Big Tech must be accountable to sovereign governments.

Facebook, whose 8-day ban on Australian media captured global attention, said it had signed partnership agreements with Schwartz Media, Solstice Media and Private Media.

The trio own a mix of publications, including weekly newspapers, online magazines and specialist periodicals. 

Facebook did not disclose the financial details of the agreements, which will become effective within 60 days if a full deal is signed. 

"These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook," the social media company said in a statement. 

The non-binding agreements allay some fears that small Australian publishers would be left out of revenue-sharing deals with Facebook and Google. 

"It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press," said Schwartz Media Chief Executive Rebecca Costello. 

Facebook on Tuesday struck a similar agreement with Seven West Media, which owns a free-to-air television network and the main metropolitian newspaper in the city of Perth. 

The Australian Broadcasting Corp has said it was also in talks with Facebook. 

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said in a statement published on Friday the company had found a "constructive path to support journalism". 

She thanked Australian users of the search engine for "bearing with us while we’ve sent you messages about this issue". 

Facebook and Google threatened for months to pull core services from Australia if the media laws took effect. 

While Google struck deals with several publishers including News Corp as the legislation made its way through Parliament, Facebook took the more drastic step of blocking all news content in Australia. 

That stance led to amendments to the laws, including giving the government the power to exempt Facebook or Google from mandatory arbitration, and Facebook on Friday began restoring the Australian news sites.