Culture Secretary set to meet with Facebook over Australia news ban – reports

22 February 2021, 06:54

Oliver Dowden
Christmas Package 2020. Picture: PA

The firm last week began removing news content from its platform in the country due to a proposed law.

Facebook’s ban of news in Australia has prompted Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to seek a meeting with the company’s executives, according to reports.

The technology giant began removing news content from its platform in Australia last Thursday over a proposed law that would compel internet firms to pay news organisations.

The Daily Telegraph and The Times report the Culture Secretary will hold talks with the company this week, with the latter quoting a source as saying Mr Dowden regards the social media company’s move as a “worrying development”.

The ban not only affects people in Australia accessing news by the country’s publishers and broadcasters via Facebook, but also their access to international news content.

The country’s new code would create an arbitration panel to set a binding price for news in situations where Google and Facebook do not reach deals with media businesses whose original journalism they link to.

In announcing its news ban, Facebook said the proposed legislation “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers”.

Media giant News Corp has struck a deal for Google to pay it for news as Australian politicians debate amended legislation to create the code.

MP portraits
Julian Knight (Chris McAndrews/UK Parliament/PA)

MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, on Thursday said: “Facebook’s actions in Australia should be of great concern in the UK at a time when our own Government is bringing forward legislation to regulate social media companies.

“Facebook has shown its absolute disregard for the public interest, being all too ready to use its power to further its own agenda.

“The DCMS Committee is deeply concerned that trusted news sources are promoted, to combat the scourge of misinformation and will be ensuring the Online Harms legislation is tough enough on this.”

A social media expert has warned news accessed by Facebook’s UK users could be hit by similar bans if current relations between big tech and publishers turn sour in the future.

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, told the PA news agency that the UK faces “no immediate threat” of similar action because of the launch of Facebook News – an initiative in which the firm has paid the likes of Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, Sky News and Telegraph Media Group for content.

Brokering such agreements with publishers in the UK means there is a “stable relationship” for now, but Mr Navarra warns that deals could crumble in the future if one side feels the scheme is no longer worthwhile, especially if other countries like Australia set an example.

By Press Association