In surprise move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia



"Government and non-news Pages should not be impacted by today's announcement".

However Facebook's blunt action has also attracted criticism that it's putting business interests before human rights - given it's shuttering users' ability to find what might be vital information, such as from hospitals and government departments, in the middle of a pandemic.

The decision was received about as well as you'd imagine, with Australian PM Scott Morrison calling Facebook's actions "arrogant" and "disappointing" in a statement shared on Facebook.

It has left us facing a stark choice: "attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia", William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a memo.

"We've long worked toward rules that would encourage innovation and collaboration between digital platforms and news organisations", he said.

The dispute centres on a planned Australian law, which would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals to pay news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or agree a price through arbitration.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the minister responsible for the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, had a telephone conversation with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg after the blockade began on Thursday and again on Friday. She said Facebook would continue to engage with the governments on amendments to the law.

Facebook said it had blocked a wide swathe of pages because the draft law did not clearly define news content. It said its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed, and it would restore pages that had been taken down by mistake.

"However, Facebook's actions in Australia demonstrate precisely why we need jurisdictions across the globe, including the United Kingdom, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers".

Still, the news media industry has seen its woes deepen as digital giants such as Facebook and Google dominate the market for online advertising in much of the world.

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Before the scheme was established, European producers had sent millions of vaccine doses to Israel, Britain and Canada. Last month eurocrats unveiled plans to block firms from shipping their vaccines outside of the bloc.

This week's Tech Tent podcast asks whether Mark Zuckerberg overplayed his hand, making it more likely that other countries will follow Australia's lead.

"The idea of shutting down the sorts of sites they did yesterday, as some sort of threat, well, I know how Australians react to that and I thought that was not a good move on their part, " Morrison said.

In the UK, Julian Knight MP, who chairs the Commons media select committee, said the company was behaving like a bully.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday that Facebook's actions are imperilling public safety, given that the news ban initially led to the temporary shutdown of Facebook pages run by key government agencies, including a suicide-prevention service and a fire-and-rescue organization. Facebook, for example, created Facebook News, a section of the app featuring curated news stories where selected publishers are paid for participating.

Facebook shares traded down 2% on Thursday.

"What the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognize is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers", Campbell Brown, Facebook's vice president of global news partnerships, wrote in a blog post. They had campaigned together against such laws and both threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google sealed pre-emptive deals with several media outlets in recent days.

Google contends the law requires it to "pay for clicks" by users and has attempted to head off the coming law.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced a wide-ranging deal with Google on Wednesday. Some were later restored.

The tech giant has said news makes up just 4% of what people view on its website. These included what Facebook described as its investments in Australian news companies that amount to millions of dollars.

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