Culture Secretary to meet Facebook executives over Australia news ban

22 February 2021, 13:44

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Coronavirus – Mon Oct 12, 2020. Picture: PA

Downing Street said it was ‘concerned’ about access to news being restricted in Australia.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is to meet with Facebook executives over the tech giant’s decision to ban news on its platform in Australia.

Facebook began removing news content from its platform in Australia last week over a proposed law that would compel internet firms to pay news organisations.

Downing Street said it was “concerned” about access to news being restricted in Australia and that Mr Dowden is due to meet with executives from the social network this week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing on Monday: “As we always have done, we will be robust in defending free speech and journalism.

“And as you know are setting up a Digital Markets Unit to promote competition in digital markets and ensure major tech companies cannot exploit dominant market positions.

“The Digital Markets Unit will be established within the Competition and Markets Authority from April and we will consult on proposals on its form and function later this year.”

The spokesman said that as part of these plans, the Government will introduce a new “statutory code of conduct” that will “support the sustainability” of the news publishing industry.

The Daily Telegraph and The Times first reported that the Culture Secretary was due to hold talks with the tech giant, with the latter quoting a source as saying Mr Dowden regards Facebook’s move as a “worrying development”.

Australian politicians are considering forcing digital businesses to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies with draft legislation that could create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

The 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 response, Facebook decided to ban the sharing or viewing of news posts via its platform for users in Australia.

A Facebook company spokesperson said: “The UK has taken a very different approach to Australia which has allowed us to strike commercial deals with almost every major UK publisher.

“We are now paying tens of millions of pounds to national and local outlets in the UK to be part of Facebook News, the dedicated tab for quality journalism we launched last month.

“We’ve also extended the Community News Project, which funds 80 trainee reporters in local newsrooms across the country.”

By Press Association