The Australian government approved the revision of a bill that would force social platforms to share profits with the media.
SYDNEY Australia (Agencies) – The power of the world’s tech giants has been under significant questioning in recent months. Apple is facing antitrust lawsuits in several countries over its App Store practices; Google has also been challenged on the issue. Social networks such as Twitter became embroiled in a debate over free speech following violent protests in the United States. In Australia, the Government is looking for digital platforms to share their profits with the media, which Facebook is unwilling to do, and stopped showing news in that country.
On Thursday Facebook blocked news publication in Australia amid a dispute between technology companies and the Government over payment for content produced by the media. The country’s authorities argue that platforms such as Facebook and Google make profits by displaying media content, but the media do not receive compensation in return.
The Australian regulation requires companies to reach an agreement with the media to indemnify them to create news according to the monetization of the links published on the platform.
The bill, approved by the House of Representatives will reach the Senate next week, estimates that if companies and media do not get a commercial agreement on the amount, the figure will be decided by a court that will act as an intermediary.
Facebook had previously shown its rejection, claimed in a statement that there are “fundamental disagreements” in the proposed law and decided to “restrict the ability of publishers and the rest of the people in Australia to share or read news content produced by Australian or international media.” It also claimed that it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Australian media through clicks.
In practice, this has meant that all news produced by Australian media will be banned from Facebook. Also, that news delivered by media outside Australia will not be visible to Australian users.
Right now, Australians cannot post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of local and international media. In parallel, Australian news sources disappeared from the platform worldwide.
Facebook’s unannounced action has been widely criticized by Australian TV channels, politicians, and activists.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized the tech company’s decision and warned that his Government would not be intimidated. “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia by cutting off essential health and emergency services information has been both arrogant and disappointing. We will not be intimidated by large tech companies trying to pressure our Parliament,” the prime minister said in a statement posted on his Facebook profile.
He added that concern is growing in countries “about the behavior of big tech companies who believe they are bigger than governments and that the rules don’t apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they rule it,” he said.
For his part, Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Treasury, described the tech company’s decision as “wrong, unnecessary and excessive” and said it “damages the reputation” of the company in Australia.
During a press conference, Frydenberg indicated that he had a “constructive” conversation today with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. They, in turn, “raised some questions” regarding the negotiation code promoted by the Government.
In turn, Elaine Pearson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), expressed her “alarm” at this “dangerous turn” undertaken by Facebook to “censor the flow of information to Australians.” She added: “cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dark of night is unconscionable” and called for the “immediate lifting of the restrictions” while recalling that Zuckerberg stated in the past that he “did not believe it is right for a private company to censor the news”.
Impact beyond the news
Facebook’s decision had an impact beyond the news. It also affected several Australian emergency services that use the platform to report accidents or warn the population about the possibility of environmental disasters.
Several departments, such as the Western Australian Fire Service, the National Bureau of Meteorology, or the South Australian Department of Health, were temporarily blocked. However, Facebook acted quickly to restore the profiles and later confirmed that the official pages “should not” be affected.
Simon Milner, head of public policy for Facebook in Asia Pacific, told the public television network ABC that these services were affected by the cut due to the “vagueness” with which the Parliament defined what news caused the mismatch in the algorithm is.
For now, the blocking continues on the profiles of Nine News Channel and News Corp, which dominate the publication of news, and the public broadcaster ABC, a central source of information during emergencies.
Although Alphabet, Google’s parent company, threatened to stop operating in Australia because of its opposition to the bill, it has opted for a more conciliatory strategy.
Yesterday Google and News Corp, publisher of titles such as The Times, The Sun, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Post, announced an agreement whereby the Internet giant will pay to display its content in the search engine’s news section.
It is a three-year agreement by which Google will pay “significant amounts” to News Corp, owned by tycoon Rupert Murdoch, in exchange for being able to show the news produced by the different newspapers it holds in the featured section of Google News, but the amounts were not detailed.
The search engine also recently reached a similar agreement with 121 publishing companies in France and has closed particular contracts with publishers in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
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