Facebook agrees to reverse the News Ban in Australia

After the Australian government agreed to change the world-first legislation, which forced Facebook and Google to pay local publishers for content, Facebook has backed down from its news blackout in the Oceanic country.

The government announced that changes would be made to its controversial News Media Bargaining Code, apparently appeasing Facebook enough that the tech giant has pulled the plug on its news blackout and struck a deal with the government to allow news content to return to its platform.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week,” Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, William Easton, said in an update published on Tuesday to the company blog, according to Mashable

Among key concessions, the government has agreed to consider commercial deals Facebook and Google reach with news companies before deciding on whether they are subject to the law and would also provide them with a month’s notice. The platforms also convinced the government to give them more time to reach deals with media publishers before they’re forced into final-offer arbitration as a last resort.

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“We have consistently supported a framework that would encourage innovation and collaboration between online platforms and publishers. After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to several changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them. 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.”

The legislation is expected to pass parliament this week. It has made Australia a testing ground for digital-platform regulation as jurisdictions worldwide rein in the Silicon Valley juggernauts.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, according to Bloomberg. “I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia.”

The social-media platform repeatedly threatened to block Australians from accessing or sharing links to the news if the legislation went ahead. Last Friday, after months of warnings, Australians awoke to find Facebook had done just that. It switched off news sharing in Australia in opposition to the proposed law. 

In blocking news sharing, the main news source for almost one in five Australians was switched off by Facebook. According to the company, it also disabled — accidentally, a raft of government Facebook pages carrying public health advice on the coronavirus, warnings from the weather bureau, and even the site of a children’s hospital, basically anything that even vaguely smelled like news.

When global regulators are already ramping up efforts to curtail the growing influence of Facebook among other tech giants, the abrupt move drew international scrutiny.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that he’d fielded queries from several world leaders about the Facebook clash, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, and Canadian leader Justin Trudeau.

“It seems very sensible of Facebook to retreat as this could have potentially been very damaging to its brand,” said Nicole Bridges, a lecturer in public relations at Western Sydney University.

Like Facebook, Alphabet Inc.-owned Google has also tried its luck in negotiating hard with the government and last year threatened it would shut down its search engine in Australia if the law was enacted. That stance seems to have taken a backseat, and in recent days, the Mountain View, California-based company has independently struck deals to pay Australian publishers including News Corp. for news, rather than be forced into arbitration.

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