Facebook ends Australia news blackout after media law compromise

by BLOOMBERG

Facebook Inc. will end its news blackout in Australia after the government agreed to amend world-first legislation forcing the tech giant and Google to pay local publishers for content.

The social-media platform switched off news sharing in the nation last week in opposition to the proposed law, and Mark Zuckerberg and government officials have been locked in talks to find a compromise.

Among key concessions, the government said Tuesday it would take into account commercial deals Google and Facebook reach with news companies before deciding whether they are subject to the law, and would also give them one month’s notice. The platforms also won more time to reach deals with media publishers before they’re forced into final-offer arbitration.

The legislation, which is expected to pass parliament this week, has made Australia a testing ground for digital-platform regulation as jurisdictions worldwide rein in the Silicon Valley juggernauts.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said. “I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia.”

Facebook said the restrictions on sharing news will be lifted “in the coming days.”

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns,” William Easton, managing director for Facebook Australia & New Zealand, said in a statement.

In blocking news sharing, Facebook switched off the main news source for almost one in five Australians. It also disabled — accidentally, the company said — a raft of government Facebook pages carrying public health advice on the coronavirus, warnings from the weather bureau and even the site of a children’s hospital.

“It seems very sensible of Facebook to retreat as this could have potentially been very damaging to its brand,” said Nicole Bridges, a lecturer in public relations at Western Sydney University.

While Bridges said Tuesday’s deal seemed a face-saving exercise for both the Australian government and Facebook, other nations would look at the company’s actions and could judge that their ability to pass similar legislation may have been strengthened.