Facebook news content is back, but publishers should still look to diversify traffic sources

Facebook will reintroduce Australian news content on its platform following the Australian Government’s decision to introduce amendments to the News Media Bargaining Code to address Facebook’s concerns.

Facebook will reintroduce Australian news content on its platform following the Australian Government’s decision to introduce amendments to the News Media Bargaining Code to address Facebook’s concerns.

Facebook restricted Australian news content on its platform last week in protest of the government’s proposed code, which Facebook felt “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content”. 

Since then, the government has agreed to amendments to the code to “provide further clarity” about how the code will operate. This comes one week after the Senate Committee recommended no changes be made to the legislation

The amendments are designed to clarify: 

  • The decision to designate digital platforms under the Code, which must take into account whether the digital platform makes a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses”; 
  • A notification period of at least one month for digital platforms of the government’s intention to designate a platform a digital platform; 
  • Non-differentiation provisions can not be triggered because of commercial agreements that result in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes for news media; and, 
  • Final offer arbitration is a last resort in the event that commercial deals cannot be reached via mediation. 

“Importantly, the amendments will strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

The government also said that its amendments add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations outside the Code – “a central feature of the framework that the Government is putting in place to foster more sustainable public interest journalism in Australia”.

Facebook issued a statement saying it is satisfied that the amendments address its core concern around allowing commercial deals that recognise the value that its platform provides to publishers relative to the value that it receives from them. 

Facebook Global News Partnerships VP Campbell Brown said ”After further discussions with the Australian Government, we have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers.

“Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation. 

“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.”

As a result of the changes, news on Facebook will be restored in the coming days. 

That’s good news for many publishers, but the relationship remains uneasy and this interaction between Facebook and the Australian Government has shown that a power imbalance remains. 

Smart publishers will continue ramping up their efforts to diversify their traffic sources and brand promotion away from Facebook.  

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