Explained: In Australia vs Facebook, issues affecting media everywhere

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a tweet on Friday that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi the previous day on a range of issues, and also “discussed progress of our media platform bill”.

Morrison has launched a global diplomatic offensive to drum up support for Australia’s proposed law to force Internet giants Facebook and Google to pay media companies for the news content that is published on their platforms. He is learnt to have reached out to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well.

Initiative and pushback

The proposed law, News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2020, mandates a bargaining code that aims to force Google and Facebook to compensate media companies for using their content. The legislation sets a precedent in regulating social media across geographies, and is being closely watched the world over.

Australia’s opposition Labour supported the Bill in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, paving the way for it to clear the Senate and possibly become law soon.

Meanwhile, even as Google moved to sign a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Facebook — which has 17 million users in Australia — retaliated with a news blackout, blocking all news links on its platform beginning Thursday. In the process, it also ended up silencing some emergency services, and reportedly removed posts from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, state health departments, fire and rescue services, charities, and emergency and crisis services.

“They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they should run it,” Morrison said of the big tech firms in a Facebook post on Thursday. “We will not be intimidated by this act of bullying by BigTech, seeking to pressure parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code… I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations… We…won’t be intimidated, just as we weren’t when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that in his conversation with Modi on Thursday, Morrison “raised concerns about Facebook and its power when the company is seeking help from the Indian government in a huge market”.

Australia’s legislation

Back in 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recommended a voluntary code with an aim to address the negotiating skew between major digital platforms and media…

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