‘Anti-democratic’: Labor minister warns Facebook against removal of Australian news content | Australian media

Australian media

Albanese government will ‘back local journalism’ in dispute over proposed news media bargaining code, says Stephen Jones

Wed 24 Apr 2024 17.00 CEST

The assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, has argued it would be “anti-democratic” for Facebook to again remove news content from Australian feeds, in the dispute over the government’s news media bargaining code, as he flagged a commitment for mainstream media outlets to be paid fairly by the social media companies.

Jones said the Albanese government would “back local journalism”, stressing his belief that Australians should be able to access news content on social media – and that outlets should be compensated.

“I think there’s no doubt that if they [social platforms] are using and deriving value from news content, they should pay for it,” Jones said.

Meta announced in March it would not sign new deals to pay for news in Australia for use on Facebook, alongside plans to shut down its news tab in Australia and the US. Current contracts with major news outlets are due to expire this year.

At the time, the company downplayed the value of news to its services, stating less than 3% of Facebook usage in Australia was related to news. Meta later said “global tech companies cannot solve the longstanding issues facing the news industry”.

The federal government has since faced calls to designate Meta under the news media bargaining code, which would force the company to negotiate with news media publishers and pay for news content on its platforms, or face fines of 10% of its annual Australian revenue.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young this week urged the government designate Meta, X and TikTok under the code.

Jones is awaiting advice from treasury and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about the effect of changes on news outlets and the social platforms.

Some news outlets have used the funds from deals with Facebook to hire more staff, expand their offerings, or invest in new resources. There is concern in media industry circles that an end to such deals may see news outlets scale back their work or cut jobs.

Asked about Meta’s statements of deriving little value from news in Australia, Jones indicated he was committed to reaching an outcome that would see media outlets compensated.

“Meta quotes the number of about 2% of their traffic is news. That may be true, it may not be true … it’s still 2% of a very large number, and that is relevant,” he said.

Jones said there was a “strict process” on the media bargaining code, which he was following “to the letter”. He said he’d written to major news publishers asking them to cooperate with the ACCC process.

“I want to understand the situation with each of them, under the existing agreements, and the consequences of Meta not agreeing to continue with commercial agreements,” he said.

Meta’s Australian office was contacted for comment.

Jones said social media companies had a “social responsibility”, including to carrying news on their platforms.

“There needs to be a place where people can go and get fact-tested, reliable information. In Australia, journalism is one of the critical sources of that information,” Jones said.

“If people are going to Facebook or other social media platforms for that information, then they should be able to get it there.”

Michelle Rowland, the federal communications minister, said on Wednesday she was confident the government would “get a result” in the code negotiations.


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