Facebook announces news partnerships and Google praises 'constructive path forward' after Australia passes an amended media bargaining code into law

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  • Facebook today announced new commercial negotiations with three independent Australian news organisations for the use of their content.
  • The news comes after Australia’s contentious media bargaining code passed the Senate in an amended form, tempering the social media giant’s fears it would be forced to pay for links shared on its platform.
  • Separately, Google issued an open letter saying it has “found a constructive path to support journalism” outside of the legislation.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

As Facebook welcomes news content back to its Australian platform after a week in the social media wilderness, the tech giant says it has entered commercial negotiations with three independent publishers for the use of their reporting.

Meanwhile, Google, the other titan in the crosshairs of the Federal Government’s contentious news media bargaining code, has deescalated its rhetoric over the legislation.

Facebook seeks “new slate of premium journalism”

On Friday, Facebook said it has signed letters of intent with Private Media, the publisher of Crikey and SmartCompany; Schwartz Media, publishers of The Monthly and The Saturday Paper; and Solstice Media, the Adelaide firm behind InDaily.

Those deals will provide Facebook users with “a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content,” the company said in a statement.

The deals are expected to be signed in full in the next 60 days.

While referencing the publisher’s previous partnerships with Facebook, Schwartz Media CEO Rebecca Costello said, “we look forward to the ways in which this deal will help us to continue producing Australia’s leading independent journalism.”

Will Hayward, CEO of Private Media, said, “we are excited to grow our existing partnership with Facebook” through the new deal.

The announcement arrives as Facebook once again permits local users to access news links and share Australian news content internationally.

The decision to wind back the week-long ban follows amendments to the Federal Government’s controversial news media bargaining code, which passed in the Senate on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Will Easton, Facebook’s managing director Facebook and New Zealand, said those tweaks to the bill — which effectively allow Facebook and Google to manouevre before mandatory arbitration kicks in — addressed the platform’s major objections.

“After further discussions, 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 recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Easton said.

“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.”

Separate to the three new deals, Seven West Media, which operates the Seven Network and newspaper The West Australian, filed its own letter of understanding with Facebook this week.

The value of those deals has not been disclosed.

Google hails “constructive path forward”

Google, the other monolithic entity originally targeted by the legislation, has also expressed its sheer relief at amendments to the bill.

In an open letter published Friday, Mel Silva, Google Australia’s managing director, said the company has now “found a constructive path to support journalism” without directly paying for links: its in-house News Showcase product.

“By establishing a program to pay news publishers, News Showcase offers a constructive path forward,” Silva said.

Last year, Google said it would be forced to remove its flagship Search product from Australia if the original legislation was passed, claiming its search engine would become unworkable if the company was required to pay news publishers for link to their content.

With amendments to the legislation passed in the Senate, Google’s concerns have dissipated considerably.

It now claims that upwards of seventy local publications have registered for the News Showcase platform, using commercial deals inked independently of the Federal Government’s legislative framework.

News Showcase “enables us to support news publishers while protecting what we and many others – from a small Aussie business selling car parts to the person who invented the internet – will continue to stand up for: a free and open web which works the same way for everyone,” Silva said.

As a result of those deals, Silva said Australian journalism will soon appear in Google News, Discover, and “more services to come.”

In his own statement, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said he was pleased the Federal Government took those negotiations into account when amending the code.

Nine Entertainment, the owner of this masthead, has penned a deal with Google for the use of its journalism, costing the tech giant $30 million a year for five years.

News Corp has also signed an agreement with Google, which chief executive Robert Thomson would see “significant payments” directed to the publisher.

Government “pleased to see progress”

In a Thursday statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Federal Government was
“pleased to see progress by both Google and more recently Facebook in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media businesses.”

But as Facebook and Google rack up media partnerships outside of the bill’s remit, it remains to be seen if the legislation will ever be enforced — and if the new deals will curb fears of a power imbalance between big tech and Australia’s news organisations, which led the Federal Government to pursue such divisive legislation in the first place.

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