Facebook to restore Aussie news pages after tweaks to law

Govt offers to change arbitration mechanism when tech firms can't reach deal with media

CANBERRA • Facebook said yesterday it will restore Australian news pages after negotiating changes with the government to a proposed law that forces tech giants to pay for media content displayed on their platforms.

Australia and the social media group have been locked in a stand-off for over a week after the government introduced legislation that challenged the dominance of Facebook and Alphabet's Google in the news content market.

Facebook last week blocked Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its platform, drawing criticism from publishers and the government.

But after a series of talks between Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, a deal has been struck, with Australian news expected to return to the platform in the coming days.

The issue has been watched internationally as other countries consider similar legislation.

"Facebook has re-friended Australia, and Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform," Mr Frydenberg said.

He said Australia had been a "proxy battle for the world" as other jurisdictions engage with tech companies over a range of issues around news and content.

While Big Tech and media outlets have battled over the right to news content in other jurisdictions, Australia's proposed law is the most expansive and seen as a possible template for other nations.

"Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that's why they have sought I think to get a code here that is workable," Mr Frydenberg added.

Australia will offer four amendments, including a change to the proposed mandatory arbitration mechanism used when the tech giants cannot reach a deal with publishers over fair payment for displaying news content.

Facebook said it was satisfied with the revisions, which will need to be implemented in legislation currently before Parliament.

"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," said Facebook vice-president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown.

She said the company would continue to invest in news globally but also "resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook".

Up until Monday, the government had maintained it would not change the legislation.

Analysts said that while the concessions marked some progress for all stakeholders, there remained many uncertainties about how the law would work.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2021, with the headline 'Facebook to restore Aussie news pages after tweaks to law'. Subscribe