There’s a game of chicken currently underway between Facebook and the Australian Government and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). This week it went to a new level, when the digital giant issued a hard ‘no’ to authorities in a blog by Will Easton, Facebook’s Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand.
For anyone who missed the start of the match, Easton’s blog follows the release of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft mandatory news media bargaining code – under which Google and Facebook would be forced to pay for news on their sites, to help fund public interest journalism.
In April, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the code would be mandatory.
“Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect. When crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other,” wrote Easton.
“News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us” – Facebook
Easton said ACCC “presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true”. He declared “news represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.”
Facebook argues that it offers “free tools and training to help media companies reach an audience many times larger than they have previously” – an assertion that is no doubt true for some.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram [owned by Facebook]. This is not our first choice — it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
Google is campaigning against the same draft code, telling users of Google Search and YouTube that those services will be under threat unless the Australian Government “dumps its proposed revenue-sharing laws”.
The ACCC responded with its own statement which began “Facebook’s threat today to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived”.
“The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google. Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.”
“We note that according to the University of Canberra’s 2020 Digital News Report, 39 per cent of Australians use Facebook for general news, and 49 per cent use Facebook for news about COVID-19. As the ACCC and the Government work to finalise the draft legislation, we hope all parties will engage in constructive discussions.”
“The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.” – Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Here at Eternity, we know there’s no denying the reality that Facebook has changed the news media industry in ways which make it harder for news outlets to keep the lights on – especially smaller outlets like ours. And we appreciate the government’s desire to protect Australian news publishers in this changing climate – Eternity would fit the government criteria for being paid by the tech giants. Besides, too many great Aussie outlets have already been lost.
That said, we’re also committed to embracing a changing news industry and allowing creative new ways of doing news to emerge from the pressure. We like being able to publish our articles on Facebook for a whole bunch of reasons – not the least of which is that (on the good days) the platform creates a place for all different kinds of Christians to respectfully discuss things that matter to them.
And while readers who come to our articles via Facebook make up a significant proportion of our readership, Facebook is not our only channel, nor our largest. So, while we hope to see Australian authorities and Facebook find a way to play together nicely, our work will carry on regardless of the outcome.
Which reminds us, you know we send Eternity directly to thousands of readers every single week, right? Let us know if you’d also like all your Christian news summarised in one email, in your inbox at Friday lunchtime, by signing up here.