Australia fought Facebook, and Facebook has won

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Last week Facebook gave Australia a taste of what life would be like with the News Media Bargaining Code in play. The code, in the form it was, would have given news publishers a share of advertising revenue from the likes of Facebook and Google, for appearing on those websites.

As you might expect, Facebook and Google weren’t chomping at the bit to get this code into play, in fact they disagreed with its existence altogether. So, last week, Facebook removed the ability for news to be posted by Australian news publishers.

That ban came into effect on Thursday last week and it took less than a week for Australian treasurer Josh Frydenburg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to announce that the News Media Bargaining Code has been amended.

The amendments are to how platforms such as Facebook are forced to comply, or rather, aren’t forced to comply with the law anymore. The main amendment is that platforms will have a two month mediation period where platforms and publishers can agree on deals rather than the platforms immediately being forced into arbitration.

The amendments to the code are said to clarify the following:

  • a decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses;
  • a digital platform will be notified of the Government’s intention to designate prior to any final decision – noting that a final decision on whether or not to designate a digital platform would be made no sooner than one month from the date of notification;
  • non-differentiation provisions will not be triggered because commercial agreements resulted in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arose in the course of usual business practices;
  • final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.

“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,” Frydenburg told 7 News.

As a result of these amendments, Facebook says that news will return to the platform for Australians in the coming days.

“After further discussions with the Australian government, we have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers. We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation,” Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a statement.

That bit about retaining the ability to turn news on and off in Australia is concerning and makes it clear that this matter is not over just yet.

While the News Media Bargaining Code is still in play, it seems less toothy than before Facebook removed news and we have to wonder if the Australian government was strong-armed into this decision. To be clear, we don’t mean through Facebook directly but through publishers and users who suddenly found themselves without an audience or news.

This does not bode well for governments who take issue with platforms such as Facebook because now more than ever it’s clear that Facebook has become key to how businesses operate, how people communicate and how we share information with each other. That’s a lot of power for a company and that power isn’t waning.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.

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