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UPDATE 2-Undeterred by Facebook news blackout, Australia commits to content law

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Byron Kaye
·3 min read
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* Facebook news ban prompted by proposed Australian law

* Prime Minister says Britain, Canada, France expressedsupport

* Law expected to pass Australian Senate within week

* Australia news website referrals down after Facebook ban(Adds Canadian comment, web traffic data and News Corp commentin paragraphs 7, 16-21)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister ScottMorrison vowed on Friday to press ahead with laws to forceFacebook Inc to pay news outlets for content, saying hehad received support from world leaders after the social mediagiant blacked out all media.

Facebook stripped the pages of domestic and foreign newsoutlets for Australians and blocked users of its platform fromsharing any news content on Thursday, saying it had been leftwith no choice ahead of the new content laws.

The move, which also erased several state government andemergency department accounts, as well as nonprofit charitysites, caused widespread outrage.

Morrison, who blasted Facebook on its own platform for"unfriending" Australia, said on Friday the leaders of Britain,Canada, France and India had shown support.

"There is a lot of world interest in what Australia isdoing," Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

"That is why I invite ... Facebook to constructively engagebecause they know that what Australia will do here is likely tobe followed by many other Western jurisdictions."

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said late onThursday his country would adopt the Australian approach as itcrafts its own legislation in coming months.

The Australian law, which will force Facebook and Google toreach commercial deals with Australian publishers or facecompulsory arbitration, has already been cleared by the federallower house and is expected to be passed by the Senate withinthe next week.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had spoken toFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a second time following thenews blackout.

"We talked through their remaining issues and agreed ourrespective teams would work through them immediately. We'll talkagain over the weekend," Frydenberg said in a tweet.

In its statement announcing the move in Australia, Facebooksaid the Australian law "misunderstood" its value to publishers.Frydenberg earlier told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that"there is something much bigger here at stake than just one ortwo commercial deals. This is about Australia's sovereignty".

Facebook and Alphabet Inc owned Google hadcampaigned together against the laws with both threatening towithdraw key services from Australia if the laws took effect.

Google, however, announced a host of preemptive licencingdeals over the past week, including a global agreement with NewsCorp.

Facebook restored some government pages later on Thursday,but several charity, nonprofit and even neighbourhood groupsremained dark.


Facebook's move had an immediate impact on traffic toAustralian newsites, according to early data from New York-basedanalytics firm Chartbeat.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from variousplatforms fell from the day before the ban by around 13% withinthe country and by about 30% outside the country, the Chartbeatdata showed.

Similarly, traffic to the Australian news sites fromFacebook alone plummeted from around 21% to about 2% withinAustralia, and from around 30% to about 4% outside the country.

News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller,testifying at an unrelated parliamentary hearing, confirmed theimpact but said the number of Australians visiting the company'swebsites directly had risen.

"Definitely referral traffic was nonexistent ... while atthe same time direct traffic to our websites was up in doubledigits," he told the inquiry.

Miller also suggested antitrust regulator the AustralianCompetition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should scrutiniseFacebook's move.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Renju Jose; Editing by Sam Holmesand Jane Wardell)