The Australian government has agreed to amend crucial sections of the Media Bargaining Code in return for Facebook restoring news back on its platform. On Tuesday, February 23, Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced that Facebook has accepted the Scott Morrison-led government’s offer to amend the bill in return for revoking the mass ban, more than five days after the social media giant blocked all news websites. Facebook’s Australia office has agreed to restore news “in the coming days” without stating any timeline for it.
The contentious legislation News Media Bargaining Code, which cleared a vote in the House of Representative last week, mandated a revenue sharing arrangement between platforms like Google and Facebook with news providers. The government proposed four amendments which are expected to dial down mandatory arbitration and other key sections of the original bill.
The changes will allow both Facebook and Google’s Alphabet Inc. to bypass the regulation under the code if these platforms can demonstrate that they have struck a satisfactory private deal with the publishers. The new changes will also extend the negotiation period for a private revenue-sharing deal to two months before government arbitrators intervene.
Facebook stated that the government has agreed that they “retain the ability to decide if news appears” on their platform to avoid forced arbitration. It was also announced that existing deals signed with media companies will be taken into account.
On Thursday February 18, Facebook had blocked all news websites along with sites of crucial government information platforms, communist parties, and the nation’s trade union confederation, among others. The move was widely attacked by leftists, trade unionists and grassroots movements for its heavy-handed censorship which has affected a large number of non-news progressive outlets.
Facebook also attracted criticism from its Australian users as the censorship also blocked sites of the health and meteorology departments at a time when the government is rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and different parts of the country are affected by bushfires.
In the meanwhile, grassroots activists have raised concerns about the effects the new bargaining code will have on independent media outlets when the Australian media is facing a congressional investigation of a veritable monopoly and market manipulations by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Facebook has already begun the process of negotiating deals with news companies. On Tuesday, it struck a deal with Seven West Media, Australia’s largest regional news agency based in the State of Western Australia. It has also entered negotiations with other regional media groups.