Facebook to restore Australian news pages after deal reached on media law

Ross Houston
February 26, 2021

Facebook blocked Australian users on February 17 from sharing and viewing news content on its popular social media platform, drawing criticism from publishers and the government.

The architect of Australia's laws forcing Google and Facebook to pay media companies for content claimed victory on Wednesday (Feb 24) though critics said last-minute changes to appease Facebook favoured Big Tech over smaller news outlets.

These amendments are meant to "provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is meant to operate", according to a joint release from Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher.

Facebook will restore Australian news pages after Canberra offered amendments to a proposed law created to force tech giants to pay for media content displayed on their platforms, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday.

Frydenberg 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.

As Australia's senate began debating the legislation, the country's most senior lawmaker in the upper house said there would be no further amendments.

"Final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals can not be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months", it further adds.

The amended version of the proposed legislation would give digital platforms one month's notice before they are formally designated under the code. And then the definition of "core news content" is also available.

Some experts see the deal as a major victory in worldwide efforts to make Facebook and Google pay for the news stories they use.

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

"We are pleased the Government have found a compromise on the Digital Code legislation to move Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations".

"Facebook is now going to engage good faith negotiations with the commercial players", Frydenberg said.

But the Australian government says the code is needed to "level the playing field" for news publishers, which have seen profits slump in the internet age.

In preparation for the law, Google struck deals with major publishers including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

This declaration has come a few hours after Australia's Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, had said there will surely be no more amendments in the bill after the government spent the weekend discussing possible amendments in the bill with Facebook officials.

Because an Australian-based arbitrator would nearly always rule in favor of the newsmakers, it behooves Google to make deals with these firms rather than face much higher prices through arbitration.

Facebook's vice president of global news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a blogpost that the changes confirmed the US company could decide which news, if any, appeared on its platform and that it could avoid forced arbitration.

Other reports by iNewsToday