Tuesday 23 February 2021 7:58 am

Facebook reverses Australia news ban after law changes

Facebook has backed down in its feud with Australia after negotiating changes to a new law that will force tech firms to pay publishers for news.

The social media giant last week blocked access to news in the country in protest at the upcoming legislation, drawing widespread criticism.

Read more: Australian prime minister blasts ‘arrogant’ Facebook over news ban

But following talks between the government and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, the two sides have agreed on a number of concessions, and the platform will restore access to news.

The stand-off has been closely watched around the world as other countries including the UK consider similar laws to address the balance of power in the online advertising market.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters his country was a “proxy battle for the world”.

“Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia, and that’s why they have sought I think to get a code here that is workable,” he said.

While other jurisdictions are weighing up new rules, Australia is the first to outline detailed proposals.

Facebook and Google have both been racing to ink licensing deals with publishers around the world in a bid to stave off tough new legislation.

“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,” said Facebook vice president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown.

She said Facebook would continue to invest in news globally but also “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.”

Read more: Screenshot: Will Facebook regret going nuclear over Australian news?

Amendments

Australia has offered four amendments to the new law, including greater leeway in the mandatory arbitration system when the tech firm and publisher cannot reach an agreement over fair payment.

The changes will grant the sides an additional two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes.

The laws will now also take into account a tech platform’s existing media deals with publishers, paving the way for further private licensing agreements.

The regulation currently only applies to Facebook and Google, though further tech firms are expected to be added.

The amendments will be introduced to Australian parliament today and will need to be approved by both houses before passing into law.

Read more: Australian Facebook ban: A political gamble gone terribly wrong

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