Australia commits to media law despite Facebook news ban, Canada to follow

Cheryl Sanders
February 19, 2021

Facebook blocked all Australian news content on its service over proposed legislation requiring it and Google to pay fees to Australian publishers for news links.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content", Managing Director for Facebook Australia and New Zealand William Easton said in the statement. "It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia". "In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia".

Google accounts for 53% per cent of Australian online advertising revenue and Facebook 23%, according to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

The digital platforms fear that what's happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent for other countries as governments revamp laws to catch up with the fast changing digital world.

Morrison blasted Facebook for taking down pages of domestic and foreign news outlets for Australians as well as several state government and emergency department accounts.

"The idea of shutting down the sorts of sites they did yesterday, as some sort of threat, well, I know how Australians react to that and I thought that was not a good move on their part, " Morrison said. "We talked through their remaining issues and agreed our respective teams would work through them immediately", Frydenberg said on Twitter.

"The recent deals struck between Google in Australia and news publishers are a welcome acknowledgement of the principle that independent journalism has to be paid for".

There was public outrage at how the Facebook blockade was bungled, cutting access - at least temporarily - to pandemic, public health and emergency services.

Guilbeault said Google would still be subject to the new Canadian law, since Ottawa wanted an approach that was fair, transparent and predictable. Organizer Rachel Chappel says Facebook's move has "completely shaken" her.

The blockade came in response to the nation's House of Representatives passing a proposed News Media Bargaining Code on Wednesday night that would make Facebook and Google pay Australian media companies for using their content. "This is yet another egregious example of Big Tech monopolists, like Facebook, abusing their massive power - and further demonstrates why governments around the world must enforce their antitrust laws and end government coddling, like Section 230 immunity".

"An article about how fake news would replace credible journalism in Australian feeds carried the headline: "'Fakebook' shows all it cares about is profit, not people". The fight has become more pressing for the tech platforms as regulators in the United States, Australia and elsewhere consider new laws on the matter.

The news ban has already been met with confusion and criticism in the country.

Google announced its plans to license news past year and revealed a new product called News Showcase in which publishers can curate and decide for themselves how to present their content on the platform. Google committed $1 billion over three years to the program.

As well as negotiating payment, the proposal would require Facebook or Google to provide news organizations with advance warning of changes to algorithms.

"Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online".

In contrast, it said, "Google search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content".

A News Corp spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

So it looks like the collateral damage of Facebook silencing scores of public information pages is at least partly a PR tactic to illustrate potential "consequences" of lawmakers forcing it to pay to display certain types of content - "encourage" a rethink while there's still time.

Other reports by iNewsToday