Government-Facebook tussle blocks out news in Australia

Jesse Mulligan

Jesse Mulligan

Radio New Zealand
Wellington, February 18, 2021

                                                                      (Photo 123RF)

A battle across the Tasman between the Australian government and Facebook has come to a head with Australian Facebook users now restricted from viewing news content.

The restrictions are in response to the Australian government’s proposed media laws.

Hayden Donnell of RNZ Mediawatch joined ‘Afternoons’ to talk about what is going on and the implications for New Zealand.

He told Jesse Mulligan that it is a big moment not just for Australia, but countries around the world who are watching with interest Australia’s efforts to make Facebook and Google pay for the content shared on its platform.

“There was probably at least plans underway to implement similar legislation in other countries; and so now, they are seeing the ramifications of that kind of legislation,” he said.

Media Bargaining Code

The Australian government planned to institute a ‘media bargaining code’ – a new law that would force Facebook and Google to negotiate with news companies for the right to link to their content.

“They would be asked to negotiate these fees in good faith and if they did not come to an agreement, it would be sent to an arbitrator and that arbitrator would listen to the cases of the news company and Google and Facebook and decide what the appropriate amount is to pay per year.

“Facebook and Google, unsurprisingly, hated the idea of having to pay news publishers anything and they have been threatening to just walk away and remove news links entirely,” Mr Mulligan said.

However, in the past few days, Google has submitted to the legislation and worked out deals for annual payments to many of the major media companies in Australia.

Facebook, meanwhile, has gone with the nuclear option.

“It has just shut down all news on its platform to avoid being pinged.”

Total information ban

In practice, this means Australians cannot share news from any reputable source on the platform, including international news.

“Therefore, they are basically cut off. If I am in Australia and I want to share a New York Times article, I cannot do so. It also means that users in other countries like New Zealand do not appear to be able to share links from the Australian media,” Mr Donnell said.

Facebook appears to have a drawn too wide a net with these changes and, in the process, blocked a number of corporations and government agencies from sharing any posts.

“Harvey Norman was not able to publish and they are one of the most important media entities in New Zealand with their funding. Government information like Covid-19 will also not be able to be published,” he said.

The risk of misinformation

With Facebook rife with misinformation and conspiracy theories, the ban for news from reputable sources does not bode well for frequent users.

Mr Donnell said that it would be even more of a hub for misinformation.

It also has the effect of doubly punishing smaller publishers who were not able to get an agreement from Google and now find they cannot share on Facebook.

“That is one of the flaws with this media bargaining law. It seems to advantage these big media publishers and there is no requirement that the money they get out of it goes into investing in news – it could just be going to shareholders,” Mr Donnell said.

Jesse Mulligan presents ‘Afternoons’ programme on Radio New Zealand. The above article has been published under a special agreement with

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