Facebook vows to block news stories in Australia rather than pay for them
Facebook is preparing to block news content in Australia in response to new regulations which would force social media platforms to pay publishers for their articles.
The Australian government announced plans in July to force Facebook and Google to pay royalties to news publishers for reusing their content.
The two companies globally collect roughly 70% of media advertising revenue, which has historically underpinned the news industry.
The move followed an inquiry into the media market in the country, and the failure of social media companies to establish a voluntary system of revenue-sharing with traditional media outlets.
Now the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is set to deliver its final version of a new law – which still needs to be passed through parliament – that would require Facebook and Google to share revenues with media organisations whose content is used on their platforms.
In a blog post, Facebook claimed the proposals were unfair and would ultimately “hurt, not help, Australia’s media outlets”, adding the regulation “misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect”.
It said that if the law was passed “we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram”.
“Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers,” the statement said.
It added the the law was based on the presumption that Facebook “benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true”.
“News represents a fraction of what people see in their news feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us,” it said.
In response to the company’s statement, the head of Australia’s treasury Josh Frydenberg said: “We don’t respond to coercion or heavy-handed threats wherever they come from.”
Rod Sims, the ACCC’s chairman, described Facebook’s announcement as “ill-timed and misconceived”.
A review commissioned by the British government and published last February found that Facebook and Google had a detrimental impact on British news media because they captured such a large share of online advertising revenue.
Last year, Sky News technology correspondent Rowland Manthorpe reported on how news media organisations were being put out of business by Facebook and Google.
Figures produced for Sky News research firm eMarketer revealed 61% of UK media advertising was going to either Facebook or Google.
The European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has described the pair as “a de facto duopoly” but fell short of promising regulatory action, merely saying it was something her office was following.
Ms Vestager said the dwindling number of well-funded journalistic organisations was concerning.
“It concerns me, because we will have no free journalism, no free press, no criticism of those in power, if we don’t have media that is well funded, that can employ qualified journalists,” she said.
“With fake news, the role is getting bigger, but the risk is there are fewer people to do it,” Ms Vestager added.
“From a European perspective, the fact that we have a number of different national markets complicates matters, because then you have strong players in the national markets, it’s not Google and Facebook.
“But the pattern, the general pattern is a clear trend towards Google and Facebook taking all the advertising revenue.”
(c) Sky News 2020: Facebook vows to block news stories in Australia rather than pay for them