Facebook’s Australian News Ban Spurs International Outcry

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said he has received support from world leaders over a battle with Facebook that saw the company impose an Australian news blackout on its platform.

Morrison said the leaders of Canada, France, the UK and India had expressed support as he invited Facebook to “constructively engage” with his government over a dispute involving payments for news content.

“There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing,” Morrison said at a press conference in Sydney.

“That is why I invite … Facebook to constructively engage because they know that what Australia will do here is likely to be followed by many other Western jurisdictions.”

International interest

Canadian heritage minister Steven Guilbeault said his country was planning to introduce legislation following the Australian model in the coming months.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Friday he had spoken to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for a second time following the news ban.

“We talked through their remaining issues and agreed our respective teams would work through them immediately,” Frydenberg said on Twitter.

Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that the issue was not about commercial deals but “Australia’s sovereignty”.

A proposed Australian law would force tech platforms such as Facebook and Google to pay news organisations for their content, or be sent into mandatory arbitration to agree a price.

News ban

It has been cleared by the federal lower house and is expected to be approved by the Senate within a week’s time.

In response to the law Facebook last week imposed a ban on the sharing of Australian news outlets’ content on its platform worldwide, as well as a ban on both domestic and foreign news within Australia.

Facebook said in a post announcing the move that the Australian law “misunderstood” the platform’s value to publishers as a way of distributing their content.

The ban, which also blocked Australian government and emergency departments, as well as nonprofit charity sites, has attracted widespread attention.

“If it is not already clear, Facebook is not compatible with democracy,” said representative David Cicilline, who heads a US House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee, on Twitter.

‘Monopoly power’

“Threatening to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate admission of monopoly power.”

Another member of the committee said the House is planning a bipartisan bill that would increase small publishers’ negotiating power with large tech platforms.

Analytics firm Chartbeat said the Facebook move had resulted in a 24 percent drop in traffic to Australian news sites by late Friday morning local time compared to 48 hours earlier.

Benedetta Brevini, an associate professor of political economy of communication at the University of Sydney, said Facebook had acted with “arrogance” in Australia due to its relatively small population.

“The numbers alone tell us that Facebook will be more likely to accept deals with publishers if countries around the world join the battle,” she said.

Google, which like Facebook campaigned against the law, has since announced pre-emptive content licensing deals with news organisations in Australia, France and elsewhere.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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