Facebook to restore Australia news pages after tweaks to media law

A compromise had been reached on key aspects of a law that would force digital giants to pay news companies for content.
A compromise had been reached on key aspects of a law that would force digital giants to pay news companies for content.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Facebook will restore Australian news pages after Canberra offered amendments to legislation that would force the tech giant to pay for media content, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday (Feb 23).  

Changes to media rules proposed by Australia will allow Facebook to choose if news remains on the platform and support the publishers it chooses, Mr Campbell Brown, the firm’s vice-president of global news partnerships said on Tuesday.  

In a blog posting, Mr Brown said after discussions with the Australian government, the social media giant would be restoring Australian news on Facebook in the coming days.  

“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,” Mr Brown added.

Australia and the social media group have been locked in a standoff for more than a week after the government introduced legislation that challenged Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google’s dominance in the news content market.  

Facebook last week blocked all news content and several state government and emergency department accounts.

But after a series of talks between Mr Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend, a concession deal has been struck.

Australia will offer four amendments, including to the mechanism for final offer arbitration, which a Facebook executive told local media was a sticking point for the company.

“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,” Facebook said in a statement posted online.

The amendments include a two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes, giving the parties more time to reach a private deal.

It also inserts a rule that an internet company’s contribution to the “sustainability of the Australian news industry” via existing deals be taken into account.

The issue has been widely watched internationally as other countries including Canada and Britain consider similar legislation.

“These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” Mr Frydenberg said in a statement.  

Australia had until Monday said it would make no further changes to the legislation.

A spokesman for Australian publisher and broadcaster Nine Entertainment Co. welcomed the government’s compromise, which it said moved “Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations.”

A Google spokesman declined to comment.  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims, the main architect of the law, was not immediately available for comment. At a speech earlier on Tuesday, Mr Sims declined to answer questions about the standoff on the grounds that it was before parliament.