“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,” Campbell Brown, VP of global news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement Monday night.
The recent restriction was in response to Australia’s proposed law that would force internet platforms to pay for news content. Facebook and Google, which serve up more than half of digital advertising in the country, both say that the legislation is flawed. They find the introduction of mandatory arbitration in case of disagreement over payment terms particularly hard to swallow.
But last week, as the legislative deadline approached, the two giants adopted different tactics. Google unveiled several deals with news providers through its News Showcase product, while Facebook said that Australian publishers would not be able to share or post content on Facebook pages, while news content from non-Australian publishers was not able to be viewed or shared by Australian users. In addition, users outside of Australia were not able to view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news pages.
Facebook’s action prompted significant criticism from Australia’s emergency and social services, as well as from politicians who labeled the platform as arrogant. The Australian government also retaliated by threatening to redirect part of its digital advertising budget away from Facebook to other providers.
Now, following negotiations between Facebook and the Australian government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced changes to the proposed law that will allow a two-month mediation period for platforms and publishers to make deals before they are forced to use an arbitrator.
“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,” Brown continued. “It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally and 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.”
The amendments will also consider commercial agreements that Facebook and Google have already made with local publishers before applying the media law, and give them a month’s notice before a final decision is made.
“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” said the country’s finance minister Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in a statement on Tuesday.
Frydenberg and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are understood to have had multiple conversations about the legislation and the principles of paying for news. The platforms suggest that publishers benefit more from exposure on social media and in search than they lose from it. The publishers say that their advertising revenues now accrue to Google and Facebook instead, and that they have had to make cutbacks as a result. Facebook says it will now begin signing up Australian publishers to its Facebook News product.
“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. We have consistently supported a framework that would encourage innovation and collaboration between online platforms and publishers,” a statement from Facebook reads. “After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of 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.”