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Facebook to restore Australian news pages after government agrees to amend legislation

Hannah Boland
·2 min read
Australia and Facebook have been locked in a standoff - Reuters
Australia and Facebook have been locked in a standoff - Reuters

Facebook has said it will reverse a news blackout in Australia after Canberra agreed to make amendments to its planned law which force the company to pay publishers for content.

Australians have been unable to access news on the social media site since last Thursday, when a row over the proposed bill escalated. Facebook blocked all news content and several state government and emergency government accounts, sparking criticism across the world and claims that it had "bulldozed" democracy.

The Australian government announced on Tuesday that, following talks over the weekend, it had now struck a deal with Facebook over the bill, with the ban expected to be lifted in the "coming days" Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said. He said Facebook had "re-friended Australia".

Canberra has initially said it would not be making changes to the law, but said on Tuesday it had agreed to include amendments, such as giving Google and Facebook more time to agree private deals with publishers.

Facebook said it would had also received clarification from Australia that it would "retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation".

As part of the new laws, the Government would take into account companies' contributions to the "sustainability of the Australian news industry" via existing deals - an addition which could see Facebook and Google escape the code altogether.

Facebook said it was planning to invest in news globally, but would continue to "resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook".

Australia's Media Bargaining Code
Australia's Media Bargaining Code

Mr Frydenberg said: "These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated."

The row has received international attention as other countries weigh up their own regulations around requiring internet giants to pay for news featured on their sites.

In the EU, copyright laws are in the process of being overhauled, in changes that would entitle publishers to compensation for snippets which appear on Google and Facebook. However, some have urged for the regulation to go further.

Earlier this week, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, was seeking a meeting with Facebook over the Australia move, whilst a spokesman for Downing Street said the Government was "obviously concerned about access to news being restricted in Australia".

On the news that a deal had been reached, Australian publisher and broadcaster Nine Entertainment said it welcomed the compromise, which moved "Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations".