Facebook to restrict news sharing in Australia, will prioritise investments in other countries

Facebook will restrict publishers and people from sharing local and international news in a direct response to the News Media Bargaining Code.

The US tech giant made the announcement in a blog post authored by the company’s Australia and New Zealand managing director, Will Easton, and posted in the early hours of this morning, after the code was passed through the House of Representatives last night.

Will Easton

Easton wrote: “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.”

The decision means local mastheads cannot share or post any content, and Australian users cannot view or share local or international news. International publishers will be allowed to post news, but Australian audiences will not be able to see the links.

In the post, Easton asserted that Facebook and Google had significantly different relationships with news, with publishers voluntarily providing and sharing their news on Facebook, while with Google, they don’t have that choice.

Easton also asserted that Facebook had made clear to the Australian government for many months “the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers — which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated A$407 million”.

As a result of the legislation Easton added: “We will now prioritise investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences.”

The decision seemed to contrast with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s assertion on Twitter that, “This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from #Facebook. He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward.”

The news also comes just a day after Mumbrella reported that the Australian Government would amend the News Media Bargaining Code, altering key aspects including the requirement of platforms to give publishers notice of algorithm changes.

It also stated payments would be lump sum, explained clearly the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s role during arbitration, and said it would ensure existing contracts are not interfered with.

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said Facebook’s decision is an indictment on the government.

“We need a workable code. This government only circulated amendments two nights ago, the night before it was actually brought into the parliament, and shared those with Labor,” Rowland said at a doorstop this morning.

“And yet the way the government was explaining it you would have thought that this was a set of amendments that was going to deliver a workable code. Clearly, in the mind of Facebook, that is not the case, and I have been in touch with Facebook Australian representatives today and it is clear that their decision is based on the uncertainty that they perceive with this code. In that event, this is not a workable code that has been landed by this government.”

This week, Google announced a significant deal with Seven West Media, the first major media company to sign on to the licensing program. Seven’s chair Kerry Stokes congratulated Google “for taking a leadership position in Australia”.

Yesterday, The Sydney Morning Herald then claimed that Nine had struck a similar deal and Junkee also reached an agreement with Google, followed by News Corp this morning.


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