ANALYSIS Facebook and Australia have done a deal that will see news links returned to The Social Network™ Down Under.
The House That Zuck Built banned news links last week after talks broke down over the News Media Bargaining Code that Australia’s government introduced to force Facebook and Google to pay local news publishers to link to their content.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg today announced that code has been amended and as a result Facebook will restore news.
The amendments retain the spirit of the code but change some aspects of its operations.
The biggest change is to the code’s arbitration model, which gives a digital platform and media company two months to come to a deal. Only after those talks and mediation have failed will the “final offer arbitration” scheme come into play. That scheme sees the two negotiating parties each make an offer, followed by mediation and, if agreement cannot be reached, a mediator having the final say.
Facebook and Google both felt the model had the potential for media companies to make sky-high claims, dig in, then hope the mediator liked their thinking.
Other changes to the code mean a digital platform can’t be included if it “has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses.” If a digital outfit is named, it will be warned in advance.
Google has already made such contributions. Facebook is reportedly close to doing likewise.
Facebook today announced it will restore Australian news media to its pages.— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) February 23, 2021
Treasurer @JoshFrydenberg and I look forward to the News Media Bargaining Code passing through the Parliament this week. pic.twitter.com/15sLZYY9Vv
Frydenberg said the changes improve the code and will make it easier for smaller publishers to score themselves some sweet, sweet, Facebucks.
However, Facebook is yet to announce any deals.
A win for Australia and maybe the world
While Australia has altered its code, it retains its teeth because it means Facebook and Google can still be brought to the negotiating table at the whim of the relevant minister. And those teeth have now seen Australia achieve what no other nation has achieved: forcing Google and Facebook to send money to news publishers on terms other than those the web giants set themselves.
Australia has also forced both web giants to acknowledge that their products derive value from the work of news-gathering organisations.
It remains to be seen, however, if Australia’s publishers spend their new revenue streams on the kind of public interest journalism the nation’s government wants funded. The code does not oblige local publishers to devote the money to anything in particular.
So all the bluster and heated debate about the code may prove a point without bringing about the change it was designed to create.
Not all is rosy because what constitutes a "significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry" has not yet been defined. Smaller media outlets are already wondering if the real meaning is a contribution to big media companies.
Ironically, Facebook’s decision came on the same day that an MP who is currently suspended from Facebook for sharing misinformation about COVID-19 resigned from the ruling Liberal party. The MP wants to keep sharing his take on the coronavirus, and thinks he cannot do so as a member of the government.
The resignation leaves the government with a workable but uncomfortable one-seat majority. The MP's insistence that he'll keep sharing his stuff shows that Facebook well and truly retains the ability to place Australia in an uncomfortable position. ®