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Australian parliament passes media law, Facebook to invest $1 billion

Christian Fernsby |
The Australian parliament on Thursday passed a controversial law that forces digital giants to pay local media for news content they display on their platforms.

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In a joint statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said that parliament passed legislation addressing the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms.

The new law “will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” the ministers said.

They added that the “bargaining code” under the law “provides a framework for good faith negotiations between the parties and a fair and balanced arbitration process to resolve outstanding disputes."

According to the ministers, the code will be reviewed by the Treasury within one year of its going into effect to ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with the government’s policy intent.

"Importantly, the code encourages parties to undertake commercial negotiations outside the Code and the Government is pleased to see progress by both Google and more recently Facebook in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media businesses," they added.

Google and Facebook have resisted the law since last April, but earlier this month Google chose to negotiate while last week Facebook blocked users in the country from viewing or sharing news content on the platform.

However, on Tuesday the Australian government said that Facebook has agreed and will reverse its decision to block access to news content in the country in the coming days.

"Facebook’s moves to restore Australian news pages on their platform over the coming days is welcome. Also pleasing to hear it’s already struck deals tonight with some Australian media to pay for news content," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"All along our news media bargaining code has been about ensuring Australian journalists and news organisations are fairly compensated for the original content they produce," he added.

Morrison applauded tech giant Google engaging throughout the process and entering negotiations with Australian media organizations, adding that Google has already secured deals with a range of news organizations.

"I look forward to Facebook striking more commercial deals to pay for content in the coming days and weeks," he said.

Facebook Inc on Wednesday pledged to invest at least $1 billion in the news industry over the next three years, days after a high-profile stand-off with the Australian government over paying news outlets for content.

In a blog detailing its version of the showdown, Facebook said the news ban was related to a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the relationship between the company and news publishers.

It also acknowledged that some non-news content got inadvertently blocked when it banned all news content.

Facebook said on Wednesday it has already invested $600 million in the news industry since 2018.

The social media company added it was in active negotiations with news publishers in Germany and France for a deal to pay for content for its news product, where users can find headlines and stories next to a personalized news feed.

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