Facebook news restriction anxieties increase, and the tech giant declines to sign agreements with major media players in Australia

Sources privy to discussions state that the social media company is either shutting out news publishers or being stubborn on crucial matters.

A couple of weeks after Facebook reached an agreement with the Australian government to remunerate publishers for presenting their news material; the network has not endorsed any major media players, triggering worries of another news feed prohibition.

Sources aware of the discussions indicate that Facebook is either shutting them out or declining to agree on crucial clauses; it might mean that the platform is fearful and thinking of ‘backing off’ once more.

Last month, Facebook was criticized worldwide for ‘trying to intimidate a democracy’ after it stopped its 18 million users in Australia from viewing news content or sharing it. However, a lengthier catastrophe was stopped with the state’s last-minute alterations to its media code. Facebook agreed to it.

Facebook has reached agreements with letters of intent with Seven West Media and three smaller players. The former publishes two newspapers and is the owner of 7news.com.au as well as the Seven network. It has, however, not reached an agreement with the three major journalist employers: ABC, Nine Entertainment, and News Corp Australia.

Josh Frydenberg, the federal treasurer, has been urging publishers to insist on a solution.

‘The state anticipates that all the parties will persist in working positively to reach commercial agreements to work in unity and good faith that the code promotes,’ remarked Frydenberg to Guardian Australia.

‘The decision on whether to assign a digital platform will depend on the advancements they have made to contribute immensely to the public interest journalism in Australia in regard to whether a major bargaining power anomaly exists with news media businesses in Australia.’

Rod Sims, chair of the Australian Competition and Commission, has stated that many journalists are employed at the ABC, Nine, and News Corp. He anticipates that the quantity of cash the platforms pay will ‘match their size.’

Nine and News have endorsed letters of intent for multimillion-dollar contracts with Google, and so have Guardian Australia and other minor publishers. The ABC has not struck a deal with Facebook or Google.

Mastheads publishers like the Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald do not assure that Facebook’s negotiations are well-intentioned and state no progress.

Some have declined Facebook’s offer as it is inclusive of the ‘capability of ending’ a contract if the treasurer designates the platform; sources say ‘they will never concede to it.’

Campbell Brown, Facebook global news partnerships president, has said that the firm is ready to re-establish another prohibition in the future.

‘From now on, the state has made it clear that we will preserve the decision-making ability if Facebook features news to avoid us being immediately compelled to a forced deal,’ remarked Brown last month.

Facebook Australia refused to provide answers about possibly pulling news once more or stopping discussions but admitted that it had progressed with deals last month and was still holding discussions with publishers.

‘In only a week we declared four deals and we are still discussing with publishers to develop our Australian journalism investment,’ said a spokesperson.

‘These deals come after our three-year interaction with the news sector, that involves financial relief, accelerator programs and partnership deals to assist in the management of Covid effects.’

Facebook’s four letters of intent entail signing a long-form deal in 60 days.

At the end of February, Facebook stated it had struck a deal with the Australian state to ‘motivate innovation and interaction between publishers and online platforms.’

Twitter and Facebook state that Australia wishes to offer regulators significant power to stop online bullying.

‘Following more deliberations, we are happy that the AUstralian state has conceded to several changes and promises to provide a solution to our main anxieties about permitting commercial deals that acknowledge how valuable our platform is to publishers, compared to the value they give us,’ stated the firm.

‘These changes mean that now we can work to improve our public interest journalism investment and bring back Facebook news for Australians in days to come.’

However, since that time, the platform has not accepted any of the big publishers.

Sims informed parliament that unless agreements are struck with ‘all parties that qualify,’ there were ‘stronger possibilities that designation will happen.’

‘I had not imagined a scenario where the deal did not involve everyone, however, there was lack of desigation,’ he remarked. ‘I believe an agreement has to be reached with all eligible parties.’

Facebook can prevent designation by extracting Australian news feed. It did this unexpectedly in mid-February. ‘To discover that Facebook simply unilaterally withdrew news from their platform is something I found very odd and surprising,’ said Sims.

image mundissima / Shutterstock.com

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