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Australia commits to media law despite Facebook news ban

February 19, 2021

Australia's prime minister has called on Facebook to lift its news blockade in the country and negotiate deals with media outlets. He said other countries could soon adopt its model in making tech giants pay for news.

Facebook's move to block news access in Australia has prompted a backlash from publishers and politicians around the world
Facebook's move to block news access in Australia has prompted a backlash from publishers and politicians around the worldImage: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said the government remained committed to implementing the proposed law forcing Facebook to pay news outlets for content despite the social media giant's decision to blackout all news media in the country.

Morrison said he had received the support of world leaders and urged Facebook to lift the blockade of Australian users and return to the negotiating table with news organizations.

"There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing," the prime minister told reporters 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."

Morrison blasted Facebook for taking down pages of domestic and foreign news outlets for Australians as well as several state government and emergency department accounts.

"The idea of shutting down the sorts of sites they did yesterday, as some sort of threat, well, I know how Australians react to that and I thought that was not a good move on their part,'' Morrison said.

"They should move quickly past that, come back to the table and we'll sort it out," he added.

What is the proposed law?

The blockade came in response to the nation's House of Representatives passing a proposed News Media Bargaining Code on Wednesday night that would make Facebook and Google pay Australian media companies for using their content.

The legislation is set to become law after it is passed by the Senate within the next week.

Google responded by quickly working out licensing content deals with major Australian media companies under its own News Showcase model.

Global backlash

Facebook's move prompted a backlash from publishers and politicians around the world, with one British lawmaker describing it as an attempt to bully a democracy.

"This action — this bully boy action — that they've undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world," Julian Knight, chair of the British Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told news agency Reuters.

Canada vows to be next

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said late Thursday that his country would be next in making sure Facebook paid for news content.

Guilbeault, in charge of drafting similar media legislation that is to be unveiled in the coming months, condemned Facebook's action in Australia and said it would not deter Ottawa.

"Canada is at the forefront of this battle ... we are really among the first group of countries around the world that are doing this," he told reporters.

Canada could adopt the Australian model, which requires Facebook and Google to reach deals to pay news outlets whose content drive activity on their services or face compulsory arbitration, he said.

Another option would be to follow the example of France, which requires large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content.

"We are working to see which model would be the most appropriate," Guilbeault said, adding he spoke last week to his French, Australian, German and Finnish counterparts about working together on ensuring fair compensation for web content.

"I suspect that soon we will have five, 10, 15 countries adopting similar rules... is Facebook going to cut ties with Germany, with France," he asked, saying that at some point Facebook's approach would become "totally unsustainable."

adi/sri (Reuters, AP)