Facebook will restore news content for Australian users this week after the Morrison government agreed to make changes to its proposed media negotiation laws.
But as Australians find the news in their feeds, the power still clearly lies with Facebook and Rupert Murdoch, experts say.
The backflip comes after Facebook blocked all news on its platform in Australia last week – including government pages and health and emergency services – in response to a bill that would force the giants of the technology to negotiate a fair payment with news publishers for sharing their content.
The historic ban rocked Australia and the world, serving as a warning to other governments considering applying similar rules to the company.
But on Tuesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced that a deal had been reached just as the bill was being debated in the Senate.
“Facebook has re-established Australia,” Frydenberg told reporters as he announced the amendments.
But what does this mean in practice? And who has the best of the deal?
The biggest winners are Facebook and major media outlets like News Limited and Channel Nine, according to digital media experts.
“This is largely Facebook’s victory,” said Axel Bruns, digital media researcher at Queensland University of Technology.
“It weakens the media bargaining code the way it was designed. This essentially means that Facebook cannot easily be forced into any arbitration that it does not want.
In other words, as long as Facebook has signed trade deals with certain “big players” like Channel Nine, News Limited or TBEN, it won’t be included in the code.
#RUPTURE: In a positive development this afternoon, Seven West Media announced a business partnership with Facebook to deliver news content on its metropolitan and regional media platforms. @PaulFletcherMP
– Josh Frydenberg (@JoshFrydenberg) February 23, 2021
“It will be very difficult for anyone to do anything with the code,” said Dr. Tama Leaver, professor of Internet studies at Curtin University.
“It’s like a gun that sits in the treasurer’s office and decides not to use it.
It is also up to Facebook to decide whether it pays one medium more than another.
“It’s a shift in balance from stick to carrot for Facebook,” said Professor Bruns.
Reminding Australia on Tuesday of its strong position, Facebook’s head of press partnerships, Campbell Brown, said the company “will retain the ability to decide whether information appears on Facebook so that we are not automatically subject to review. forced negotiation ”.
This means that Facebook can suddenly delete news from Australian users again in the future if it doesn’t get its way.
“The biggest winner is News Limited,” said Dr Leaver TND.
“It’s because they got what they wanted which was to find a mechanism to take money out of social media companies, which they had never been able to do before. . “
It’s no secret that Australian newspaper ownership is already among the most concentrated in the world.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia owns nearly two-thirds of the country’s dailies, including the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph and The Australian.
And it looks like the company is going to prevail again.
“As far as I know, they are the only ones who have reached a global agreement,” said Dr Leaver.
Professor Bruns said the negotiating deal will provide cash flow to big business operators like Channel Nine or News Corp Australia.
“It’s going to be like royalties in the music industry – the money always ends up going mostly to the big labels,” he says.
“It will benefit some of the major players, like Nine and News Corp and maybe TBEN, but that’s about it.”
Regional newspapers, independent news outlets and the Australian public will not get much from this deal.
The main benefit is that Facebook will start allowing news content on its platform again, but that won’t do much to boost media diversity.
This is because the large media companies are likely to make all trade deals with the platforms.
“Facebook has never had much of a sense of its social responsibility,” said Professor Bruns.
“The major news agencies are very keen on supplementing their funding, as their underlying business model has fundamentally failed.
“And the government, nothing it has done… is designed to help small news outlets increase diversity in the Australian media landscape, or in any way to further support public information activities in Australia. difficulty in the regions.
But Dr Leaver said Facebook could also become a loser.
“Facebook won in the world, but lost with the Australians,” he said.
“The damage to reputation is very high. Hopefully this will be a time when Australians realize that they need some diversity in their social media, and that relying on a single business platform is an unhealthy choice.