Facebook agrees to restore news after talks with government


Facebook has agreed to restore news for its Australian users in the coming days after holding discussions with the federal government.

The social media giant dramatically escalated its fight with the government last week, barring Australians from accessing news sites on the platform.

The move came as part of Facebook’s fight against the Federal government’s media bargaining code, which would force tech giants to pay news outlets for news content accessed on their platforms.

But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has confirmed Facebook would walk back the measure after holding constructive talks.

“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” he said in a statement.

The government confirmed on Tuesday it would introduce further amendments to the code, which has been met with fierce resistance by Google and Facebook.

They included a measure that would ensure whether a tech giant had “made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry” would be factored in before they were designated under the code.

“The amendments will strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms,” Mr Frydenberg.

The government has encouraged tech giants to strike deals with news outlets outside of the code, a call met by Google, which reached a flurry of arrangements with major Australian outlets last week.

But Facebook last week carried out its threat to remove news altogether from the platform, arguing it fundamentally undermined the way its platform operated.

“(The plan) has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia,” it said.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

Mr Frydenberg criticised the move as “unnecessary heavy-handed”, saying the government remained committed to legislating the code.

But said he remained optimistic Facebook would return to the table.



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What it means, why are users blocked from reading and sharing content


Facebook is blocking Australian users from reading and sharing news.

The shock move by Facebook comes with Australia poised to adopt legislation that would force digital platforms to pay for news content.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook’s decision to stop Australian publishers and users from sharing or viewing news content sends a strong message about its credibility.

“Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing,” Mr Fletcher told the ABC.

“They’re effectively saying, on our platform, there will not be any information from organisations which employ paid journalists, which have fact checking processes, editorial policies. They’re effectively saying any information that is available on our site does not come from these reliable sources.”

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Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton announced the ban in a statement dated Wednesday.

Facebook said it had been left with a choice between attempting to comply with a law it thinks “ignores the realities” of the relationship between it and news publishers, or to simply stop allowing the content altogether.

This is what it means for you:

WHAT IF I WANT TO READ OR SHARE AUSTRALIAN NEWS?

There’s nothing stopping you going directly to the website of an Australian news site to read their content, you just won’t see it on Facebook anymore, or be able to share articles on your timeline to discuss them with your friends. It’s likely you can still send them in direct or group messages on Facebook platforms such as Messenger and WhatsApp.

WHAT IF I WANT TO READ OR SHARE INTERNATIONAL NEWS?

If you’re outside of Australia you can still post links from international news sources but not from Australian ones. If you share this content it won’t be seen in Australia.

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HOW IS FACEBOOK ENFORCING THIS?

Australian users won’t be able to post links featuring the URL of any news outlets, while international users are banned from sharing links with the URL of any Australian news outlets. Facebook uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to police its site, including to perform early level content moderation. This isn’t always a perfect system, as Thursday morning’s implementation of the ban has shown.

Non-news pages, including Harvey Norman, the Betoota Advocate, the ACTU and two random biking related pages have been caught up in the ban too.

Given this change targets specific URLs and doesn’t require the interpretation of content to see if it complies with the site’s guidelines, it’s unlikely Facebook will have much trouble keeping the links off its platform, but it remains to be seen how other pages that shouldn’t be included in the ban are dealt with.

Facebook’s local representatives didn’t know why the pages were being caught up in the ban when contacted by news.com.au on Thursday morning.

RELATED: Google’s search video backfires

WHY IS FACEBOOK BANNING NEWS NOW?

The House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would amend Australia’s Competition and Consumer Act to establish a mandatory code of conduct that applies to news media and digital platforms when bargaining in relation to news content that appears on the platforms, with a specific focus on Facebook and Google.

That proposed code came after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry showed that Facebook and Google dominated the digital advertising market in Australia.

The ACCC also found Google and Facebook were “unavoidable business partners for media companies to both access an audience for their content and secure advertising revenue”.

The Government “accepted the overriding conclusion that there was a need for reform” and committed to “address bargaining power concerns” between the platforms and publishers by tasking the ACCC to develop a voluntary code of conduct.

In April last year, due to a lack of progression in the creation of the voluntary proposed code, it was upgraded to a mandatory one.

The Bill before parliament claims the mandatory code of conduct will “help support the sustainability of the Australian news media sector by addressing bargaining power imbalances”.

In effect this means the platforms would have to pay the news publishers for their content.

Facebook disagrees and argues that “the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers — which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume”.

The company claims news content makes up less than four per cent of the content people see on Facebook, and argues that it referred more than five billion pairs of eyeballs to local publishers, which it “estimated” was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

GOOGLE IS PLAYING BALL, SO WHY NOT FACEBOOK?

The new code has a specific focus on Google and Facebook as they are the two companies that dominate the digital advertising market, with huge amounts of data they can use to target ads at you.

After threatening to shut down Australian services (to the delight of Microsoft which quickly showed enthusiasm to replace Google with Bing), Google has been shaking hands and signing papers all week with major news publishers in Australia, inking deals worth tens of million a year with Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment, and News Corp (publisher of this website) for content to appear in Google’s News Showcase product.

Google pledged last year to spend $US1bn ($A1.29 billion) over three years on news content.

Other deals with the ABC and the Guardian are reportedly “in eleventh-hour negotiations”.

But Facebook argues it is not the same as Google and the pair “have fundamentally different relationships with news”.

“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

Google disputes that. Its “public search liaison” Danny Sullivan tweeted in response to “clarify” Facebook’s point and explain publishers do have a choice of whether or not to appear in Google Search and News.

The company argued it was prepared to launch its own competitor to Google’s News Showcase in Australia, which would come with significantly increased investment in local publishers, but would only do so “with the right rules in place”.

ABSURD SITES CAUGHT IN FACBOOK BAN – INCLUDING FACEBOOK

Facebook’s news ban is already in effect on Thursday morning and it’s not just news sites that are being blocked from sharing content – the ban is also impacting a variety of non-news pages, including Facebook’s own.

Among the pages that are now showing a message reading “no posts yet” as of Thursday morning, is Facebook’s own.

The Bureau of Meteorology has also been blocked in the ban, as has the ACTU and the Queensland Health page.

SA Health and the ACT government’s page are also empty, and the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services has been scrubbed too.

SIGN FACEBOOK COULD BACKFLIP ON BAN

While many Australians have reacted with fury, there’s a clear sign Facebook could soon backtrack on the Australian news ban.

That hidden clue is buried in the last line of the tech giants lengthy public statement announcing the move.

“We hope that in the future the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers,” it wrote.



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News Corp Australia, Google strike global content deal


News Corp has reached a global licensing deal with Google to make “significant payments” for displaying its content across the world on its Google News Showcase.

Chief Executive Robert Thomson announced the “historic multi-year partnership” for publications including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post in the US, The Times of London, The Sun and News Corp Australia publications including The Australian, Sky News and metro daily newspapers and websites.

These include The Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Adelaide Advertiser and news.com.au.

The three-year agreement will include development of a subscription platform, the sharing of ad revenue and further investments in audio and video journalism with YouTube.

Mr Thomson said the deal would have “a positive impact on journalism around the globe as we have firmly established that there should be a premium for premium journalism”.

“This has been a passionate cause for our company for well over a decade and I am gratified that the terms of trade are changing, not just for News Corp, but for every publisher,” Mr Thomson said in a statement released on Wednesday morning (local time) in New York.

The deal followed similar local announcements this week by Australian media companies Nine Entertainment, which would be paid $30 million per year, Seven West Media and smaller publisher, Junkee media.

Other agreements between Google and media outlets including Guardian Australia and the ABC are expected imminently.

News Corp’s global announcement came as Australia was preparing to pass new media laws.

Mr Thomson said the deal had taken many years and thanked Google, the Australian government and News Corp leadership for steering the negotiations which have drawn attention across the world.

“I would like to thank Sundar Pichai and his team at Google who have shown a thoughtful commitment to journalism that will resonate in every country,” Mr Thomson said in a statement.

“The deal simply would not have been possible without the fervent, unstinting support of Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, and the News Corp Board. For many years, we were accused of tilting at tech windmills, but what was a solitary campaign, a quixotic quest, has become a movement, and both journalism and society will be enhanced.

“Particular thanks are certainly due to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Rod Sims and his able team, along with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who have stood firm for their country and for journalism.”

Mr Frydenberg said on Wednesday the signing of Australian multimillion-dollar deals may address problems the laws were designed the solve.

Facebook has yet to announce any agreements with Australian publishers.

Mr Frydenberg said Google’s “generous” deals had only been struck due to the threat of regulation, and Australia’s news media bargaining code could “pave the way forward” for public-interest journalism.

Google and Facebook had threatened to pull their services in Australia if the news media bargaining code was adopted.

“None of these deals would be happening if we didn’t have the legislation before the parliament,” he said.

“This code has exceeded what others have tried and failed to do. It is a framework – a lasting legal mandatory framework – which is obviously the reason why the parties have come to the table.”

The Treasurer confirmed he held discussions with Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend, and said the government “held the line” on the new laws.

Mr Frydenberg did leave the door open to whether he would designate Google’s Search or Facebook’s Newsfeed to be subject to the laws, however, given the deals that were being put in place.

“I don’t want to pre-empt any decisions that I may or may not take as the Treasurer to designate a particular digital platform under this code,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“But what I have said is if commercial deals are in place then it changes the equation.”

Swinburne media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said avoiding designation under the laws would be the “best possible outcome” for Google, which had campaigned fiercely against the news code and threatened to remove its search engine in Australia to avoid setting an international precedent.

“Google appears to have won, for all their flailing about and end-of-the-world scenarios,” Dr Barnet said.

“But while it’s a win for them, it’s also a win for media companies. There’s no way Nine would have walked away with a $30 million deal if this was not about to be debated in parliament.”

Despite the deals, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal president Marcus Strom said the laws were still vitally important to protect the future of journalism in Australia, particularly for smaller publications.

“The news bargaining code is still needed to ensure both of these global digital platforms contribute to the cost of all the journalism that they benefit from, and that smaller players are also compensated for their content, especially community, regional and rural outlets,” he said.

The news code is expected to be passed into law this week.



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Google strikes $30m deal with Nine


Google has reportedly struck a $30m deal to pay Nine Entertainment Co for its news content, with the federal government’s bargaining code set to be debated in parliament.

Google has signed a letter of intent that would see the tech giant pay $30m a year over five years, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, which is owned by Nine.

The deal could be rubber-stamped within a fortnight.

Nine would become the second Australian media outlet to sign a letter of intent with Google, after Seven West Media announced a $30m deal on Monday.

Seven chairman Kerry Stokes said the “groundbreaking” deal provided “fair payment” and ensured the company’s digital platforms remained viable.

The revelation comes as the government prepares to pass its media bargaining code, which was endorsed by a senate committee after an acrimonious two-day public hearing.

RELATED: Senate committee recommends charging tech giants for news

Google threatened to withdraw its search engine from Australia if the bargaining code passed.

It said it was willing to pay news outlets via its Google Showcase function, but did not want to pay for content appearing in searches.

The Nine deal struck would sit outside the search function but cover its newspapers, television, radio, and digital assets, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Google and Facebook both vehemently opposed the bill, arguing it would break the way the internet functioned.

Facebook said it could bar Australians users from accessing and sharing news on its platforms, while chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg unsuccessfully lobbied Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to walk back his plan.

Google conceded it had temporarily prevented some Australian users from accessing news sites as part on an “experiment” it claimed was necessitated by the proposal.

The government has encouraged tech giants to strike deals with news outlets outside of the code.

But the laws would force tech giants to pay a rate determined by an independent body if an agreement was not reached.



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Google, Facebook will face paying for news after Australian laws approved


Google and Facebook will almost certainly be forced to pay Australian media organisations for the news they use on their platforms after a Senate Committee yesterday endorsed the country’s proposed media bargaining laws as a way to “safeguard public interest journalism”.

The laws will be among the first in the world to demand the multibillion-dollar tech firms share revenue with news outlets, and are being closely watched by regulators in other countries, including Canada and the United States, where Microsoft encouraged the government to “copy” the approach.

The bill could be passed into law next week, starting a process that would see Facebook and Google negotiate with small and large Australian media companies later this year.

But it’s not clear how the tech giants will respond after months fierce campaigning against the laws and threats to withdraw services and remove news content from their platforms in Australia to evade the rules if they were passed.

The Senate’s final report into the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code said while there were “some polarised views on the bill,” it had “significant support” and should be passed into law.

“While some submitters have questioned the methods and recommended additional refinements, there is a strong view that large multinational technology companies — in this case Google and Facebook — should not remain outside sensible regulations that protect the public interest,” the report found.

The Senate Committee, chaired by Western Australian Senator Slade Brockman, also noted the laws were “innovative” and reflected international concerns that “public interest journalism is a public benefit that is being undermined by the internet and that new legislative frameworks are required”.

“(The news code’s) provisions will provide the basis for a more equitable relationship between the media and Google or Facebook and, through this, help safeguard public interest journalism in Australia,” it reported.

The laws, first drafted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, will establish rules for negotiations between digital platforms and registered Australian news businesses over sharing revenue from the use of their content.

The rules would affect Google’s Search and Facebook’s Newsfeed platforms, and would force the companies to seek agreements over payments, and into final-offer arbitration if they could not reach agreement within three months.

Digital platforms will also be asked not to discriminate against news outlets, develop ways to promote original news content, and give media businesses 14 days’ notice before major changes to the way their content would be shown online.

The Committee’s recommendations come 18 months after the competition watchdog first recommended voluntary codes of conduct, and 10 months after Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the code would be mandatory after negotiations between the parties stalled.

Mr Frydenberg said yesterday he welcomed the Committee’s endorsement “which recommends no changes,” and would introduce the bill to Parliament next week.

Labor has offered “in-principle” support for the news code, with Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland saying laws should be swiftly debated and passed to “end the uncertainty and level the playing field between the news media and digital platforms”.

It’s unclear how Google and Facebook will ultimately respond to the Senate’s endorsement of the laws, however, after both threatened to remove or change their services to evade them.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva told the Senate inquiry the tech giant would have “no real choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia,” if the laws passed.

And the company’s public policy head Lucinda Longcroft refused to rule out the removal of other Google services such as Gmail, Maps, and YouTube when asked about them by the Senate Committee.

“At this stage, we are still understanding the implications of removing Search on our other services,” she wrote.

Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton also said the company would “stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram” if the laws were enacted.

But rival Microsoft, which publicly offered to fill any vacancy left by Google, endorsed Australia’s news media bargaining code for a second time yesterday, with president Brad Smith saying the United States government should introduce similar laws.

“The United States should not object to a creative Australian proposal that strengthens democracy by requiring tech companies to support a free press. It should copy it instead,” Mr Smith said in a blog post.

Mr Smith said Australia’s proposed laws were a “creative answer” to an “economic imbalance between technology and journalism,” and said Google’s hurried video meeting with the Prime Minister after Microsoft offered support for the laws demonstrated its monopoly on the market.

“Within 24 hours, Google was on the phone with the Prime Minister, saying they didn’t really want to leave the country after all. And the link on Google’s search page with its threat to leave? It disappeared overnight,” he said.

“Apparently, competition does make a difference.”



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Google, Facebook told to pay for news under Media Bargaining Code


Laws forcing Google and Facebook to pay for news content are one step closer, after a fiery hearing culminated in cross-party support for the plan.

A senate committee recommended on Friday the government’s media bargaining code be adopted in full, after securing bipartisan backing.

Under the laws, Google and Facebook would be forced to pay Australian media outlets for news content accessed on their platforms.

The report followed an acrimonious two-day hearing in January, where the plan was met by fierce resistance from the tech giants.

RELATED: ‘Blackmail’: Google to ‘punish all of Australia’ over big tech proposal

Google and Facebook claimed it would drastically alter the way the internet functioned.

But the laws received support from the Coalition, Labor and the Greens.

“Public interest journalism is more than just an ordinary consumer product that has been undermined or ‘disrupted’ by new technology,” the committee found.

“(It) is a cornerstone of democracy and its survival is imperative in a society increasingly vulnerable to misleading information that can so easily be spread on the internet.”

Google and Facebook both fronted the first day of the inquiry, where Google threatened to withdraw its search engine from Australian users if the plan went it ahead.

It conceded it had temporarily blocked some Australian users from accessing certain news sites, but claimed the “test” was preparation necessitated by the proposal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held “constructive talks” with Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai in February, saying he had gained confidence the tech giant would remain in Australia.

But he insisted Google “understands that Australia sets the rules” and the federal government would not kowtow to the tech giant’s demands.

NCA NewsWire has contact Google for comment.

The Greens supported the bill in principle, but demanded outlets spend revenue from the code directly on resourcing public interest journalism.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has called for the government to establish a permanent trust to ensure Australian Associated Press was supported through public funding.

She also wanted an annual review of the code’s impact on small and independent news organisations.

Facebook reiterated a threat to prevent Australians from sharing and accessing news on the platform.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg also lobbied Treasurer Josh Frydenberg directly in an unsuccessful bid to have the laws reversed.

But US software giant Microsoft backed the bargaining code in February, saying it represented a “a fundamental step towards a more level playing field”.

It claimed its own search engine, Bing, would soon be ready to fill a void if Google abandoned the $4b Australian market.

Tech giants and news outlets would be encouraged to strike arrangements over news content under the proposal.

But an independent arbitrator would be established to determine how much would be paid for content if the two parties were unable to strike an agreement.

Labor backed the bill, but attacked the government in Friday’s report for failing to implement the code by December as planned.



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Scott Morrison talks with Sundar Pichai over media code


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held showdown talks with the global head of Google this morning, after the tech giant threatened to pull its search engine from the Australian market.

Mr Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher spoke to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday morning to discuss the government’s media bargaining code.

The proposal has been met with fierce resistance from Google, which threatened to prevent Australian users from accessing its search engine last month.

Despite the threat, the federal government has pushed ahead with its plan to make big tech giants, including Google and Facebook, pay for Australian outlets for news content.

RELATED: ‘Blackmail’: Google to ‘punish all of Australia’ over big tech proposal

The government was buoyed on Wednesday by Microsoft publicly backing the code.

The US software giant claimed it would step into the void left if Google carried out its threat, saying its own search engine, Bing, could replace it.

The prime minister said on Monday Microsoft was “pretty confident” it could supplant Google in the $4bn Australian market.

Google and Facebook have declared the code unworkable, and launched a PR campaign in a bid to scupper it.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lobbied Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher directly, but was unsuccessful.

Facebook has also reiterated a threat to prevent Australians from accessing or posting news content on its platform.

Along with its threat to leave the Australian market, Google directed Australian users of its search engine to a video of Australia and NZ managing director Mel Silva declaring the laws would “break” Google’s model.

The link has since been removed.

The tech giant also temporarily hid certain news sites from some Australian users in what Ms Silva described as an “experiment” that had been “forced upon us” by the government.

Peter Lewis, Director of The Australian Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, told a senate committee on Monday that “Chairman Mao would have approved” of the tactics used by Google, which was prepared to “kill one to warn a hundred”.

The threats prompted Greens leader Adam Bandt to call on Wednesday for a publicly owned search engine.

“Google has enormous market power and they’re using it to threaten the Australian parliament and the Australian public,” he said.

“It’s time to seriously consider what a replacement would be.”

About 95 per cent of online searches in Australia are conducted via Google.



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Microsoft backs government, says it can replace Google


US tech giant Microsoft has promised to fill the void if Google carries out its threat to ditch Australia and has announced it backs the government’s media bargaining code.

The development is welcome news for the federal government, which is embroiled in a stoush with Google and Facebook over its plan to make tech giants pay Australian news outlets for original content.

The two tech giants have declared the proposal unworkable and have threatened to punish Australians if it becomes law.

But in a statement on Wednesday, Microsoft president Brad Smith announced the company “fully supports” the code, saying it “represents a fundamental step towards a more level playing field”.

RELATED: Remarkably dominant’: Ominous warning over Google power

“The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses,” he said.

“It also recognises the important role search plays, not only to consumers but to the thousands of Australian small businesses that rely on search and advertising technology to fund and support their organisations.

“While Microsoft is not subject to the legislation currently pending, we’d be willing to live by these rules if the government designates us.”

It comes after Google threatened to prevent Australians from using its Google Search function, which accounts for 95 per cent of searches in Australia.

Google would walk away from the $4bn Australian market if carried out its threat, which prompted the Greens to call for a publicly owned search engine to replace it.

But Microsoft has moved swiftly to soften the blow.

It pledged a seamless transition to its own search engine, Bing, saying it would invest to make it “comparable” to its competitors.

“Microsoft will ensure that small businesses who wish to transfer their advertising to Bing can do so simply and with no transfer costs,” Mr Smith said.

“One thing is clear: while other tech companies may sometimes threaten to leave Australia, Microsoft will never make such a threat.

“We appreciate what Australia has long meant for Microsoft’s growth as a company, and we are committed to supporting the country’s national security and economic success.”

The laws would establish an independent umpire to determine how much tech giants would pay news outlets for their content, but the government has encouraged agreements outside of the code.

Google said the move would “break” its business model in Australia and has launched a massive PR blitz against the reforms.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lobbied government ministers directly in a bid to reverse the proposal.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed he had spoken to Mr Zuckerberg but said the government was firm on its plans.

Facebook also threatened to prevent Australians from posting or accessing news content on its platform.



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