News, Culture & Society

Paul Fletcher says Facebook must abide by Australia’s laws

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has insisted the government will not back down after Facebook banned news content – and said the publisher could either abide by Australia’s laws or leave the country.

Facebook banned Australian users from seeing and sharing local news in response to a new law to make tech giants pay media companies for the content they use.

Mr Fletcher said the government ‘will be proceeding’ with the code, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday night and looks set to pass the Senate and become law within days. 

‘We want Google and Facebook to stay in Australia but we have been very clear that if you do business in Australia, you need to comply with the laws passed by the elected parliament of this nation,’ he told the ABC on Thursday morning.

But Mr Fletcher didn’t rule out tweaking the code after continuing discussions with Facebook.

Treasurer Josh Treasurer spoke to CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday morning and revealed the pair were trying to find ‘a path forward’. 

‘Let’s allow those discussions to continue and, at the same time, let’s continue with the process of legislating the code,’ Mr Fletcher said.   

Facebook’s decision means its nine million daily users in Australia can no longer view any news – even from foreign websites. 

Not only can no Australian users find news articles to read on Facebook, a vital resource particularly for regional readers, but both local and international news won’t be visible.

Australian Facebook users can’t even share content they find interesting with friends and family, and those overseas can’t read or access any content from Down Under either. 

Facebook’s move contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with media groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, in response to the regulatory push.  

The law ‘fundamentally misunderstands’ the relationship between tech platforms and publishers, Facebook said, adding that it has helped Australian publishers earn about AU$407 million last year through referrals (pictured: Another black Australian news site)

Facebook will no longer allow people in Australia to read or share news on its platform, the media giant has said

Facebook will no longer allow people in Australia to read or share news on its platform, the media giant has said

A screenshot shows a notification from Facebook that explains a news article cannot be shared

A screenshot shows a notification from Facebook that explains a news article cannot be shared

How have news outlets responded? 

Nine:

‘It is unfortunate Facebook have taken this position and it will indeed inhibit us from sharing our quality news and information with Australians. Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation to rapidly spread without balance. This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behaviour,’ a spokesperson said.

‘But today’s statement does not mean Facebook will not have to abide by the Federal Governments proposed code. Value has already been transferred and Facebook has benefited from our content for many years. We should be able to access their monopoly platform and have the right to monetise our content as a result.

‘We have been negotiating with Facebook in good faith and we remain willing to do a deal with them that provides a mutually beneficial outcome and ensures quality information is available to all Australians on their platform.’ 

Minister Fletcher said Facebook’s move is likely to increase the amount disinformation on Facebook. 

‘There are already questions about the credibility of information and sources on the Facebook platform,’ he told Ben Fordham on 2GB radio. 

‘They’re basically saying to Australians: ”If you’re looking for reliable news, Facebook is not the place to look for it”.’  

Think Tank Reset Australia said the moved showed Mr Zuckerberg does not care ‘about Australian society and cohesion’. 

‘Facebook is telling Australians that rather than participate meaningfully in regulatory efforts, it would prefer to operate a platform in which real news has been abandoned or de-prioritised, leaving misinformation to fill the void,’ said director Chris Cooper.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who ferociously grilled Facebook and Google representatives in a senate inquiry last month, slammed the move.

‘Blocking Australian news overnight, while allowing hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories run rampant.

‘Facebook has just confirmed it really is just FakeBook,’ she said.     

Those in favour of the law say the rules are needed to ‘protect public interest journalism’ by making sure outlets are paid for content social media and search engine users read and share.

FACEBOOK’S CHANGES TO NEWS IN AUSTRALIA 

Facebook has restricted publishers and social media users in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

What does this mean for Australian news organisations?

Australian news organisations will be restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages 

Admins will still be able to access Page insights and Creator Studio on their Facebook pages

Facebook said they will continue to provide access to other standard services, including data tools and CrowdTangle

What does this mean for international news organisations?

International news organisations can still post on Facebook but Australian users will not be able to see the content or share it 

What does this mean for Australian Facebook users?

Australian Facebook users will not be able to view or share Australian or international news content 

What does this mean for international Facebook users?

International Facebook users will not be able to view or share Australian news content on Facebook  

But industry giants Google and Facebook strongly oppose the rule, arguing that it does not fully comprehend the relationship between tech companies and news outlets. 

The law ‘fundamentally misunderstands’ the relationship between tech platforms and publishers, Facebook said, adding that it has helped Australian publishers earn about $407million last year through referrals.

The move has already been slammed as ‘very worrying’ by journalists and media experts, who fear the lack of proper, verified news will help spread false information online. 

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, has previously held talks with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg - leaving him under the impression the social media giant was willing to enter into a commercial arrangement - something Thursday's shock decision turns on its head

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has previously held talks with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – leaving him under the impression the social media giant was willing to enter into a commercial arrangement – something Thursday’s shock decision turns on its head

The decision means Daily Mail Australia's nearly five million followers can no longer access our news content on Facebook

The decision means Daily Mail Australia’s nearly five million followers can no longer access our news content on Facebook

A release from the company says: ‘The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.

‘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. 

‘With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.’

It adds: ‘We were prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia and significantly increase our investments with local publishers, however, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place.’

Facebook said Australian users will not be able read or share news content on the platform, and Australian news publishers will be restricted from posting or sharing content on Facebook pages.

Satirical news sites including the Betoota Advocate, The Shovel and The Chaser have been been caught up in Facebook’s ban on Australians sharing news.

Discussions between Mr Frydenberg and Mr Zuckerberg on Sunday led the former to believe a deal was imminent.

‘They are very focused on what’s happening here in Australia, but I sense they are also trying to reach deals, and that is welcome,’ Mr Frydenberg said.

A government-controlled senate committee has already recommended the new bargaining code, which affects digital platforms and news media, be passed.  

The move is a response to the country's proposed Media Bargaining law, which forces tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate with news providers to feature their content (pictured: A blank news site on Facebook)

The move is a response to the country’s proposed Media Bargaining law, which forces tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate with news providers to feature their content (pictured: A blank news site on Facebook)

Google has also threatened to shut down its search engine in the country to avoid ‘unworkable’ content laws. 

On Thursday, the search engine giant signed a global deal to pay for content from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp after Australian media companies negotiated terms with the tech giant. 

The Silicon Valley behemoth has been making hasty arrangements with Australian media firms after lawmakers said they would consider forcing Big Tech to pay for the content it reproduces on its platforms. 

Australia’s two largest free-to-air TV stations, Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment, have already reportedly struck deals with Google collectively worth $60million a year. 

News Corp said it would receive ‘significant payments’ from Google in its three-year agreement, which wraps in the Times and the Sun newspapers in the UK, the Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the US, and Sky News TV channel in Australia. 

The deal spans audio and video and News Corp will also get an ad revenue share from Google.

Scott Morrison (pictured) has also been involved in the talks - speaking to high-level executives at Google and Facebook

Scott Morrison (pictured) has also been involved in the talks – speaking to high-level executives at Google and Facebook

News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson thanked Australian officials in a statement, saying they ‘have stood firm for their country and for journalism’. 

Mr Frydenberg confirmed earlier on Wednesday that the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation was also in negotiations and planned to spend any Google revenue on regional journalism.

‘There are negotiations going on with all the major players and the minor players at the moment,’ Mr Frydenberg said.

‘This will help sustain public interest journalism in this country for years to come.’

Mr Frydenberg said ‘none of these deals would be happening’ if not for proposed legislation to create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

Politicians were debating amended legislation to create the code in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The code would create an arbitration panel to set a binding price for news in cases where Google and Facebook failed to reach deals with media companies whose original journalism they linked to. 

‘Everything that I have heard from parties, both in the news media business and in terms of digital platforms, is that these are generous deals,’ Mr Frydenberg said.

‘These are fair deals. These are good deals. These are good deals for the Australian media businesses.’

Australia has claimed an early win in a protracted licensing battle with Google as the internet giant struck reportedly generous deals with big and small media companies to pay for news

Australia has claimed an early win in a protracted licensing battle with Google as the internet giant struck reportedly generous deals with big and small media companies to pay for news

The ban has stunned ABC News Breakfast co-host Michael Rowland, who tweeted: ‘Facebook to ban users in Australia from viewing or sharing Australian and international news content. Wow!’

He later tweeted that the ABC Facebook feed had gone black. 

‘Unbelievable,’ he posted. 

Federal MP Rebekha Sharkie later told the program Facebook risked becoming ‘irrelevant’.

‘Look, I guess we’re a small market in Australia and I guess Facebook feels that they can flex their muscles,’ she said.

‘Ultimately, I think they would have to be very careful that they don’t become irrelevant. We can all only look at so many funny cat videos. 

‘People mainly get their news content from Facebook or other services and I think people will perhaps look at other platforms if Facebook aren’t willing to share.     

Other journalists have taken to Twitter to express their shock. 

‘Facebook’s move to stop Australians from seeing or sharing news content will only see more disinformation spread on FB, with no ability to post factual news stories to rebut the nonsense. This is very worrying,’ Guardian journalist Josh Taylor told News Breakfast.

The move is a response to the country's proposed Media Bargaining law, which forces tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate with news providers to feature their content

The move is a response to the country’s proposed Media Bargaining law, which forces tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate with news providers to feature their content

News Corp signed a three-year deal for its content with Google on Wednesday. The sum paid by the tech giant was not disclosed but Rupert Murdoch's outfit said it would recieve 'significant payments'

News Corp signed a three-year deal for its content with Google on Wednesday. The sum paid by the tech giant was not disclosed but Rupert Murdoch’s outfit said it would recieve ‘significant payments’

Google and Facebook, which take a combined 81 per cent of online advertising in Australia, have condemned the code as unworkable.

Google says it might make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the code is introduced. 

Mr Frydenberg said after weekend talks with Facebook chief Mr Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet, and its subsidiary Google, that he was convinced the platforms ‘do want to enter into these commercial arrangements’.

‘We have held the line and held it strongly,’ Mr Frydenberg said.

‘And the digital giants have been left in no doubt about the … government’s resolve.’

Google confirmed it was ‘in discussions with publishers large and small’. It did not provide News Corp deal terms.

Facebook was also said to seeking news deals, but said it did not have ‘anything to confirm at this time’.

The Australian deals with Google are being negotiated under Google’s own model, News Showcase.

The company has reached pay deals with more than 450 publications globally since it launched News Showcase in October.

The Australian deals dwarf the $76million Google will split between 121 publishers in France over three years, which averages $209,000 a year per publishe

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