Facebook agrees to restore Australian news

Daniel McCulloch, Matt Coughlan and Hannah Ryan
(Australian Associated Press)


Facebook will reinstate Australian news on its platform after the Morrison government agreed to further amend its mandatory media bargaining code.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed the last-minute legislative changes on Tuesday afternoon after days of high-level negotiations with the social media giant.

“Facebook has re-friended Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Seven West Media has become the first media company in the country to strike a deal with Facebook, it announced on Tuesday evening.

The company signed a letter of intent to provide news content to Facebook on Tuesday, and expects sign off on a final agreement in the next 60 days.

“The establishment of this new partnership with Facebook is a significant move for our business and reflects the value of our original news content across our successful metropolitan and regional broadcast, digital and print properties,” Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes said in a statement.

Mr Frydenberg had earlier said Facebook would restart negotiations with media companies after reaching an agreement with the government on the code.

“We’ve made it very clear they need to do commercial deals with Australian media businesses,” he said.

Under the changes, digital platforms will be given one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code.

The amendments will give parties more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration.

Facebook is satisfied the changes address the company’s core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value its platform provides to publishers.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” the social media giant said in a statement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss Rod Sims and Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy were involved in the talks after the Facebook news ban.

The treasurer said the code remained mandatory, based on two-way value exchange and retained a last-resort arbitration mechanism.

“It is a world-leading code,” he said.

Facebook will be expected to strike more deals worth millions of dollars with media companies, following Google’s lead.

There will be a default offering that tech companies can make to smaller and regional publishers.

A non-discrimination clause will remain in place so Google and Facebook can’t favour some news organisations over others.

“You can’t do deals with one party and not do deals with other parties and not be subject to the code,” Mr Frydenberg said.

The treasurer said the world’s eyes had been on the outcome of the government’s negotiations with the companies.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world.”

Government advertising on Facebook will restart after a brief pause.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie says the code, which will require digital platforms to pay for Australian news, will make media organisations even more dependent on the success of Google and Facebook.

Senator Lambie argues the money generated will simply shift from one set of corporate titans to another.

“Shareholders of News Corp and Nine will be delighted that their dividend is about to be fattened up on the back of shareholders in Facebook and Google,” she told parliament.

Senator Lambie said businesses wanting to advertise online would end up bearing the cost of tech giants paying for news.

“This is a bipartisan shakedown delivered by a consensus of absolute stupidity.”

She savaged a Greens proposal to ensure money that flowed from the code was spent on journalism.

The bargaining code is expected to pass the Senate this week with support from Labor and the Greens.


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