Australia’s major publishers have yet to sign any new agreements with Facebook since the media bargaining code passed. Now, worries grow of a second news ban.

  • Australian publishers are worried about Facebook removing news for Australian users for a second time as negotiations with the tech company falter.
  • When the news media bargaining code was passed, Facebook hinted at forthcoming agreements.
  • In the three weeks since, none of Australia’s major publishers have signed notices of intent and fear that they’ve reached an impasse in discussions, according to reports.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

In late February, the Australian Government celebrated the passing of legislation that it said would force Facebook and Google pay news media publishers in Australia. Three weeks later, these promised deals have yet to eventuate.

The highly contentious Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021 was passed on 25 February, following months of brinksmanship between the federal government, tech giants and media publishers.

Both Facebook and Google were opposed to the law. But as the proposed legislation became more certain to pass the Parliament, the two tech companies responses diverged.

Google began to announce multi-year deals with news publishers worth worth tens of millions of dollars annually, including notices of intent withSeven West Media, Nine Entertainment (which owns Business Insider Australia) and even an international deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Facebook took what many called the ‘nuclear option’ when it pulled news from its platform during negotiations. After both Facebook and the federal government announced a detente, the tech company reversed its news ban and hinted at forthcoming agreements.

“We can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news for Australians in the coming days,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

No new Facebook deals

Despite the promise of investments and concessions from the government that made the news media bargaining code more palate, Facebook has yet to announce any new deals struck with major Australian publishers.

The company had previously letters of intent with Seven West Media, Private Media and Schwartz Media — all announced prior to the legislation passing.

Facebook has continued to negotiate with News News Corp, Nine Entertainment and the ABC but publishers remain concerned that these deals won’t eventuate, Nine’s Zoe Samios reported on Monday.

One of the major sticking points in discussions remains over a clause that would allow Facebook to walk away.

Facebook has defended its efforts to sign deals with Australian publishers.

”We announced four deals in just one week and we continue to engage with publishers to further our investment in Australian journalism,” a Facebook spokesperson told Nine.

“These deals follow our three-year engagement with the news industry which has included partnership deals, accelerator programs and financial relief to help manage the impact of COVID-19.”

Publishers even fear the possibility of a second news ban, the Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade reports today.

In a short statement made after Facebook agreed to bring news back for Australian users, Facebook’s vice-president for global news partnerships Campbell Brown suggested such a move wasn’t out of the question.

“It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” he said on a company blog.

What’s next?

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg restated the federal government’s expectation that both tech companies and publishers work together to come to agreements to pay for news — or face the consequences outlined in the news media bargaining code.

“The government expects all parties to continue to work constructively towards reaching commercial agreements in the spirit of collaboration and good faith encouraged by the code,” Frydenberg told Guardian Australia.

One way in which the government can force their hand is by choosing to designate Facebook’s News Feed as a platform under the code, giving Facebook a month to either remove news from its service again, sign agreements or face forced arbitration.

“Consideration on whether to designate a digital platform will be based on the progress they have made towards making a significant contribution to Australian public interest journalism and with respect to whether there is a significant bargaining power imbalance with Australian news media businesses,” he said.

Until deals are struck with Australia’s major publishers, the threat of being designated in the news media code will hang over the head of Facebook.

But they’ve already shown they’re more than willing to play hardball.