AUSTRALIA – Facebook is back at the negotiating table in Australia after the tech giant blocked news on its site across that country, Reuters is reporting.
Facebook’s sudden decision to prevent Australians from sharing any local or foreign news stories on Facebook also wiped out several state government and emergency department accounts, which caused widespread anger.
During a press conference on Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Facebook has “tentatively friended us again.”
Facebook said they are still opposed to a proposed Australian law requiring social media platforms to pay for links to news content.
Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s Treasurer, said on Friday that he spoke with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and talks would continue over the weekend.
Australia has said they will create legislation that would force Facebook and Google to make commercial deals with Australian publishers or they would be forced into talks with them. The proposed law has already cleared the lower house of parliament and is expected to pass within a week.
Facebook’s Asia-Pacific policy director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region, Simon Milner, told Sydney Morning Herald the company objects to the proposed legislation.
Facebook objects to being barred from discriminating between different news outlets that ask for money, to arbitration models that allow an independent body to select one payment over another, and to the obligation to enter commercial negotiations with Australian media companies.
Australia’s legislation is being widely watched around the world including Canada, which expressed interest in similar action.
Last week Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Canada would adopt the Australian approach as it creates its own legislation.
Google had threatened to turn off its search engine in Australia but said last week it has made preemptive licensing deals over the past week with some news outlets.
Facebook’s actions created a backlash from leaders across the world.
David Cicilline, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island who chairs the US House Antitrust Subcommittee said that “if it is not already clear,” Facebook’s actions in Australia demonstrate that the company “is not compatible with democracy.”
“Threatening to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate admission of monopoly power,” Cicilline said on Twitter. “Facebook’s actions are highly irresponsible and have jeopardized the safety of the Australian people.”
Canadian heritage minister Steven Guilbeault tweeted that “Facebook’s actions are highly irresponsible and have jeopardized the safety of the Australian people.” “We will continue to move forward to put in place fair legislation between news media and web giants.”
The Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) called on their government to restrict Facebook’s influence.
“The fact that a platform simply shuts down pages at will in order to build up political pressure shows where the problem with the American network monopoly lies on the internet,” said Dietmar Wolff, manager of BDZV.
New copyright laws in the European Union forced Google to agree to pay French news publishers for their content.
Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Newsquest, Britain’s largest newspaper publisher, and chairman of Britain’s News Media Association, said Facebook’s actions demonstrate why regulators need to coordinate globally to create a “truly level playing field between the tech giants and news publishers.”
What Facebook did is “a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully, trying to protect its dominant position,” said Walker.
Google has already signed deals with more than 500 publications worldwide since they launched News Showcase, a product that gives publishers control over how their content is presented on Google.
Professor Charlie Beckett, the director of Polis, at the London School of Economics, said arrangements between tech companies and big publishers come at the expense of smaller organizations that don’t have the negotiating clout.
“So if you believe in a diverse, vibrant journalism industry, then this doesn’t seem to be helping that,” Beckett told CNN Business.