Facebook lifts Australian news content ban after deal struck

23 February 2021, 16:58

Facebook has struck a deal with Australia's government
Facebook has struck a deal with Australia's government. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Facebook has announced it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news content.

The social media giant has struck a deal with the Australian government on legislation that would force it and Google to pay for the journalism they use.

The country's treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed they had agreed amendments to the proposed legislation.

Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law.

READ MORE: Facebook blocks news in Australia in major row over paying for content

The news blockade temporarily cut access to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, sparking public outrage.

Mr Frydenberg described the agreed amendments as "clarifications" of the government's intent.

He said his negotiations with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were "difficult".

"There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world," Mr Frydenberg said.

"Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is workable," he added, referring to the proposed News Media Bargaining Code.

The amended version of the legislation would give digital platforms a month before they are formally designated under the code.

That would give more time for agreements to be brokered before arbitration arrangements become binding.

A statement by Campbell Brown, Facebook's vice president for news partnerships, said the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones.

"We're restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won't automatically be subject to a forced negotiation," Mr Brown said.

Google had also threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable, but that threat has faded.

The tech giant has been signing up Australia's largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform says it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and over 500 publishers globally using the model launched in October.

Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.

"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 regional managing director William Easton said.

"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."