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March 5, 2021
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Facebook cuts deals with Australia, lifts ban on news pages

CANBERRA, Australia: Facebook has announced it will restore news content to its users in Australia after it reached an agreement with the government.

The tech giant has blocked news to Australians on its platform since last Thursday amid a dispute over a proposed law that would force it and Google to pay news publishers for content.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end “in the coming days” after the pair had talked.

Frydenberg said amendments would be made to the law.

“Facebook has re-friended Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

The government has been debating the law – seen as a possible test case for regulation globally – in the Senate after it was passed in the lower house last week.

Last Thursday, Australians woke up to find they could not access or share any news stories on their accounts.

Facebook argued it had been forced to block Australian news in response to the proposed legislation.

The government’s news code aims to set up a “fairer” negotiation process between the tech giants and news companies over the value of news content.

But it has been strongly opposed by Facebook and Google – both argue the code misunderstands how the internet works. Facebook has also said it gets little commercial gain from news content.

Related story: Facebook blocks Australia pages in dispute over proposed law

But the Australian government says the code is needed to “level the playing field” for news publishers, which have seen profits slump in the internet age.

The law, if passed, will make digital platforms pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content in news feeds or search results.

Under the amendments to the proposed bill, the Australian government will take into account commercial agreements that digital platforms like Google and Facebook have already made with local news media businesses before deciding if the code applies to the tech giants.

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had been reassured by recent discussions with the government.

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

“We have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers.”

Facebook already has its own “showcase” product through which it pays media organisations a fee to display their stories on its platform.

Google had also threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company has recently agreed on deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

The government will also give digital platforms one month’s notice before reaching the final decision.

It will also include a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms and publishers to broker deals before they are made to enter arbitration as a last resort.