Facebook agrees to restore Australian news pages

Australia and Facebook have been in a standoff for more than a week over a draft law that will force tech giants to pay for news.

Facebook has been in a standoff with Australia over plans to make big tech platforms pay news organisations for their content [File: Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters]

Facebook has agreed to restore Australian news pages after the government offered amendments to legislation that would force tech giants to pay for media content displayed on their platforms.

The deal on Tuesday came amid a standoff that lasted more than a week between the Australian government and the social media group over the so-called Media Bargaining Code.

Facebook and Google strongly opposed the draft Australian legislation, which will force the tech giants to reach commercial deals with Australian publishers or face compulsory arbitration. The bill passed the House of Representatives last Wednesday, prompting Facebook to block its 13 million Australian users from accessing and sharing all news on its platform.

The blackout also erased content on the pages of emergency services, health authorities and non-profit organisations, sparking widespread outrage.

The Australian government and Facebook announced a deal on Tuesday, after a series of talks over the weekend between Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Australia will offer four amendments, which include a change to the mandatory arbitration mechanism used when the tech giants cannot reach a deal with publishers over fair payment for displaying news content.

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook said in a statement posted online.

The amendments include a two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes, giving the parties more time to reach a private deal. It also inserts a rule that an internet company’s contribution to the “sustainability of the Australian news industry” via existing deals be taken into account.

The issue has been widely watched internationally as other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, consider similar legislation.

“These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” Frydenberg said in a statement.

“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” he added.

Australia had until Monday said it would make no further changes to the legislation.

A spokesman for Australian publisher and broadcaster Nine Entertainment Co welcomed the government’s compromise, which it said moved “Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations”.

A Google spokesman declined to comment.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims, the main architect of the law, was not immediately available for comment. At a speech earlier on Tuesday, Sims declined to answer questions about the standoff on the grounds that it was before Parliament.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies