News & Current Affairs

By Erin Taylor


Has Facebook blocked your content?

Anyone who has Facebook or Instagram will have noticed a change in their newsfeeds today with Facebook announcing that it has decided to ban all Australian news content from its platforms rather than engage with news media businesses under the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code 2020 (the Code).

The legislation implementing the proposed Code (the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2020) passed the House of Representatives last week and is expected to pass in the Senate next week.

In response to that you might have seen in the media (but clearly now not on Facebook or Instagram) that Google has made deals with Seven West Media, Nine, and News Corp in relation to the content from each of those sites that appears in Google searches.

However, Facebook has not reached any deal and as a consequence, have decided to cease all use of media content from Australian sources rather than trying to comply with the Code.

What is the Code?

Recommendations for the Code came from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Digital Platform Inquiry in 2019. It found that there is a bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and news media businesses so that news media businesses are not able to negotiate for a share of the revenue generated by the digital platforms and to which the news content created by the news media businesses contributes. It found that Government intervention is necessary because of the public benefit provided by the production and dissemination of news, and the importance of a strong independent media in a well-functioning democracy (I must say though, as an educated and left leaning member of this “well-functioning democracy” I do see the irony in a Murdoch driven agenda championing independent media as the basis for the cause).

The Code attempts to address the power imbalance between the digital platforms and news content providers by:

  1. Requiring digital platforms to engage in good faith bargaining with news content providers about remuneration for the use of content;
  2. Providing a platform for compulsory and binding arbitration where parties can’t reach and agreement;
  3. Allowing digital platforms and news content providers to contract out of the provisions of the Code if they reach an acceptable agreement; and
  4. Provisions preventing digital platform providers from treating news content providers differently, whether they are participating in the Code or not; and
  5. Other boring things like requiring the platform providers to provide news content providers with updates on things like changes to the algorithms.

What’s a news business?

A news business is an entity registered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. (ACMA). The ACMA must register a news business if the applicant news business had an annual revenue above $150,000 in the most recent year or in three of the five most recent years, and the news sources comprising the news business:

  • have the primary purpose of creating and publishing core news content;
  • are subject to relevant professional journalistic standards; and
  • operate predominantly in Australia for the dominant purpose of serving Australian audiences.

It seems as though this is where Facebook has gotten things pretty wrong today. Rather than just blocking actual news businesses, Facebook has blocked thousands of small businesses (including this one) from posting any ‘news’ content. As of today, all of our blog posts for the last 4 years have been deleted.

There are small businesses all over the country who are now panicking because they don’t have websites and rely on Facebook and Instagram to sell their products to their consumers.

Seemingly, Facebook have tried to hold the Australian Government to ransom. Rather than agreeing to pay news businesses for the content they provide on the social media platforms, they have effectively cut off any small to medium business, charitable entities and information disseminating entities (like the Rural Fire Service). Perhaps this was just part of their algorithm to cut off any Australian content that hasn’t come from a personal profile, but I can’t help thinking this is another part of the power struggle between the might of Facebook and the Australian Government.

It will be pretty interesting to see who the Australian Government backs here. Will they step in and fight for small business, or will they stand steadfast and support the big news businesses (most of whom are significant contributors to the major political parties) at the expense of the little guys?