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Facebook to restore Australian news pages after tweaks to media laws

SCI & TECH
By Reuters | February 23rd 2021

Facebook will restore Australian news pages after Canberra offered amendments to a proposed law designed to force tech giants to pay for media content displayed on their platforms, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday.

Australia and the social media group have been locked in a standoff for more than a week after the government introduced legislation that challenged Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google’s dominance in the news content market.

Facebook last week blocked all news content and several state government and emergency department accounts.

But after a series of talks between Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend, a concession deal has been struck.

Australia will offer four amendments, which includes a change to the mandatory arbitration mechanism used when the tech giants cannot reach a deal with publishers over fair payment for displaying news content.

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook said in a statement posted online.

The amendments include a two-month mediation period before the government-appointed arbitrator intervenes, giving the parties more time to reach a private deal.

It also inserts a rule that an internet company’s contribution to the “sustainability of the Australian news industry” via existing deals be taken into account.

The issue has been widely watched internationally as other countries including Canada and Britain consider similar legislation.

“These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” Frydenberg said in a statement.

Australia had until Monday said it would make no further changes to the legislation.

A spokesman for Australian publisher and broadcaster Nine Entertainment Co. welcomed the government’s compromise, which it said moved “Facebook back into the negotiations with Australian media organisations.”

A Google spokesman declined to comment.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims, the main architect of the law, was not immediately available for comment. At a speech earlier on Tuesday, Sims declined to answer questions about the standoff on the grounds that it was before parliament.

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