Meta says it will stop funding news in Australia, prompting backlash

Canberra blasts Meta’s decision as a ‘dereliction of its commitment to the sustainability’ of the media industry.

Meta says it will not renew deals providing funding to traditional news publishers [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Facebook parent company Meta has announced that it will no longer enter deals to pay news publishers in Australia, prompting condemnation from the government and the media industry.

To ensure that Meta can “continue to invest in products and services that drive user engagement”, the company will not renew its funding deals with traditional news content and “will not offer new Facebook products specifically for news publishers in the future”, the tech giant said in a blog post on Friday.

Meta said the move would not affect existing agreements with publishers until they expire.

Meta said it will also shut down its news tab in Australia and the United States in April, following the retirement of the feature last year in the UK, France and Germany.

The California-based company said it was making the changes to “better align our investments to our products and services people value the most”.

“As a company, we have to focus our time and resources on things people tell us they want to see more of on the platform, including short form video,” it said.

“The number of people using Facebook News in Australia and the US has dropped by over 80 percent last year. We know that people don’t come to Facebook for news and political content – they come to connect with people and discover new opportunities, passions and interests.”

Meta signed deals with numerous traditional media outlets after Australia passed landmark legislation in 2021 requiring tech platforms to pay for the news content shared on their platforms.

The introduction of the News Media Bargaining Code, which has been emulated in other jurisdictions including Canada, followed accusations that platforms such as Facebook and Google exploited free news content to hoover precious advertising revenues away from struggling news organisations.

Meta’s announcement was immediately criticised by the Australian government.

Australian Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Assistant Treasurer and Financial Services Minister Stephen Jones called Meta’s decision a “dereliction of its commitment to the sustainability of Australian news media”.

“The Government has made its expectations clear. The decision removes a significant source of revenue for Australian news media businesses. Australian news publishers deserve fair compensation for the content they provide,” Rowland and Jones said in a joint statement.

Rowland and Jones said they would seek advice on the next steps from the treasury and Australia’s competition watchdog.

“We will now work through all available options under the News Media Bargaining Code. The government will continue to engage with news publishers and platforms through this process,” Rowland and Jones said.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Australia’s biggest union for journalists, questioned whether Meta cares about journalism.

“Facebook should compensate news organisations for making money from their journalism – if it won’t do it voluntarily, the govt should use the powers it has to force it to,” the union said in a post on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies