Govt strikes deal with Facebook on bargaining code

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

News content will return to Facebook for Australian users after the federal government agreed to make a series of last minute changes to the media bargaining code in order to appease the tech giant.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced on Tuesday afternoon that Facebook would soon allow news content back on its platform after the government confirmed it would move a number of amendments to the bargaining code legislation.

“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” Mr Frydenberg said on Tuesday afternoon.

Josh Frydenberg
Josh Frydenberg: The federal government will make amendments to the media bargaining code to make it more “workable”.

The bargaining code requires designated companies – likely to be Facebook and Google – to enter into final offer arbitration with Australian media companies to determine revenue sharing deals over the use of news content on their digital platforms.

It also requires the tech firms to provide advance notice on relevant algorithm changes made by human intervention.

The big tech firms have railed against the code, with Google threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia entirely while Facebook said it may block all news content for its Australian users.

While Google has moved to quickly sign a number of lucrative deals with Australian media companies for the use of its content on its Showcase service, potentially allowing it to avoid designation under the code, Facebook instead followed through with its threat and blocked news content last week.

After ongoing discussions with Facebook, Mr Frydenberg revealed the government would move a series of last minute amendments as part of a deal which will see the tech company reverse its policy of blocking news content for Australian users.

The amendments include the introduction of a two-month mediation period before the parties are forced into final offer arbitration, that the government has to consider any commercial deals already negotiated before designating Facebook or Google under the code, and a one month notification period before a designation is made.

The amendments are set to be introduced in the Senate on Tuesday morning before the bargaining code legislation is brought for a vote on Wednesday, where it is likely to pass easily with bipartisan support.

In a statement, Facebook Australia managing director William Easton said the amendments address the company’s “core concerns” with the bargaining code.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” Mr Easton said.

The company said that it retains the ability to decide if news appears on the Facebook platform to ensure it isn’t automatically forced into the arbitration process, signalling that it will move to block news content again if it is designated under the code.

While the code has now passed into law, it does not truly come into effect until the Treasurer designates one of the tech companies. With Google having recently entered into a number of commercial deals with media companies to use their news content on its Showcase service, the new amendments pave the way for the government to not designate that tech giant.

The latest amendments also give the government more room to not designate either tech companies if they make deals with media companies outside of the code, and also gives Facebook and Google a month before being designated to strike deals.

The amendments in the Senate come after the government made a number of “technical” amendments to the legislation in the lower house last week upon request of the tech firms.

These changes included that the final remuneration amount must be a lump sum, that these deals must be consistent with existing contracts between the two parties and that the advance notification requirement is limited to “circumstances where they are making changes to an algorithm which are likely to have a significant effect on referral traffic to covered news content”.

The Opposition has said it will support the bargaining code legislation in Parliament despite raising a number of concerns with its implementation, potential unintended consequences and the powers handed to the Treasurer to designate tech companies under the code.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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