Facebook and News Corp Have Reached a Three Year News Distribution Deal

Illustration for article titled Facebook and News Corp Have Reached a Three Year News Distribution Deal

Photo: Michael Nagle / Stringer (Getty Images)

After temporarily disabling Australian news organizations’ ability to share news links in February, Facebook announced on Monday that it had reached a licensing agreement with the news giant News Corp.

Advertisement

In a statement, News Corp Australia said that the three-year deal would allow the media conglomerate’s properties — including the national newspaper The Australian, the news site news.com.au, and major metropolitan papers including The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Courier-Mail — to share news links on the platform in the country.

“[News Corp] has reached a multi-year agreement to provide access to trusted news and information to millions of Facebook users in Australia through its Facebook News product,” the company said.

In February, as Australia’s government had sought to implement a new rule that would force big tech companies to negotiate with news outlets and pay for news content, Facebook had preemptively blocked any content that could be reasonably defined as “news” from being shared on the platform. Facebook had, at the time, criticized the proposed rules as an attempt, “to penalize Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.”

As the social media giant attempted to cull news outlets from its platform, government pages, charity groups and nonprofit organizations were also swept up in its dragnet and summarily banned. In a statement provided to Gizmodo at the time, Facebook had insisted that the pages hadn’t been blocked accidentally, but had been censored as part of a broad interpretation of the new rules:

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted,” a spokesperson said at the time.

The whole move was, essentially, a stunt designed to force concessions from the Australian government, and it mostly seems to have worked: The agreement with News Corp ultimately negates a forced arbitration clause in the proposed bill, which would have forced the platform to “pay potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under [a system] that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s global policy chief, argued in a blog post.

In lieu of cooperating with Australia’s proposed bargaining law, Facebook’s global operation has pledged to contribute $1 billion to news industry deals over the next three years in an effort to foster continued partnerships with media companies.

Advertisement

Facebook Told Us to Suck It, for a Change

Illustration for article titled Facebook Told Us to Suck It, for a Change

Photo: Michael Reynolds (Getty Images)

Attention, haters: you have officially been put on notice by Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg.

This morning, Clegg unleashed a very salty, very strongly-worded rebuke to sordid charges propagated by publishers supposedly looking for a cash grab. It’s titled “The Real Story of What Happened With News on Facebook in Australia,” and reads like a closing argument in a courtroom drama—in this case, essentially accusing Australian lawmakers of allowing the media industry to pick Facebook’s pocket through a proposed law which would compel the company to pay for journalism. While I reject every assertion in this blog post, it’s nice to finally get a human on the line—rather that the unbroken chain of prerecorded denialism and we’ll-get-back-to-yous from Facebook which rarely relate in any way to criticisms at hand.

Here’s the reported version of the Story of What Happened With News on Facebook in Australia: Australian lawmakers have been wrapping up some new legislation (the News Media Bargaining Code). Specifically, it gives Australian news businesses the power to bargain over a rate which Facebook and Google would have to pay in exchange for hosting news articles in full, as excerpts, or in link form. Facebook did not care for this plan and retaliated by pulling all news links shared by publishers and users from its site in Australia. (Clegg said that Facebook had to do so to protect itself from liability.)

Advertisement

But many also noted that this kind of proved the point that Facebook wields way too much power over news access online. Yesterday, the company flipped the news switch back on after lawmakers agreed to a handful of amendments. They would give Facebook and Google a month’s notice before enforcement and potentially exempt Facebook entirely if it proves that it already pays Australian media companies through alternative deals. (Google, on the other hand, struck a deal with NewsCorp to share some ad revenue and create a subscription service. Google already pays some participating publishers to give readers free access to paywalled articles in its News Showcase product. Facebook reportedly pays a select number of outlets to present their full stories in its News Tab.)

In a blog post yesterday, Facebook said it was “pleased” with the agreement, but Clegg saved a few choice words for (presumably) legislators and journalists. Claiming that the Australian lawmakers were deluded by “a fundamental misunderstanding” of how news on Facebook works, Clegg argued that Facebook actually provides news outlets a free marketing service. More to the point, what you’ve heard are lies [emphasis theirs]:

The assertions — repeated widely in recent days — that Facebook steals or takes original journalism for its own benefit always were and remain false.

Okay, depends on your vantage point. Moreover, that wasn’t really the lesson from the past week. We just learned that Australians like getting their news from Facebook.

Clegg could have left it there, but he decided to let it rip:

Of course, the internet has been disruptive for the news industry. Anyone with a connection can start a website or write a blog post; not everyone can start a newspaper. When ads started moving from print to digital, the economics of news changed, and the industry was forced to adapt. Some have made this transition to the online world successfully, while others have struggled to adapt. It is understandable that some media conglomerates see Facebook as a potential source of money to make up for their losses, but does that mean they should be able to demand a blank check?

Advertisement

I’m guessing the money-grubbing failures to which Clegg refers include the dying local papers that have struggled to adapt in part specifically because they’re losing out on locally-targeted advertising revenue which is now almost entirely pocketed by Google and Facebook. Anyway, okay, we get it! Not done yet [emphasis, again, Clegg’s]:

It’s like forcing car makers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price. It is ironic that some of the biggest publishers that have long advocated for free markets and voluntary commercial undertakings now appear to be in favor of state sponsored price setting. The events in Australia show the danger of camouflaging a bid for cash subsidies behind distortions about how the internet works.

Advertisement

This is a wildly skewed metaphor; Facebook is less like the car and more like one of two radio stations that get to decide which record labels to promote. That kind of broadcast dominance has directly led to newroom layoffs through (allegedly knowingly misleading) emphasis on video. It’s also algorithmically suppressed outlets now competing for attention with fake and inflammatory sources. For a sense of how much an even playing field matters, the Pew Research Center recently found that 36% of Americans regularly get their news from Facebook. Its influence over the flow of information is so patently obvious that every few years we circle back to insisting that Zuckerberg just admit that he’s running a media organization.

Maybe Australian politicians, in needling Facebook to pay its fair share, finally struck a nerve. Or maybe the thrill of winning a pissing match against a sovereign nation has the company’s executives willing to gloat. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope that Facebook keeps the line of honest dialogue open.

Advertisement

Facebook Promises to Let Users Share News in Australia Again After Negotiations With Government

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (right) and the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher in the Senate Courtyard at Parliament House on February 23, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (right) and the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher in the Senate Courtyard at Parliament House on February 23, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.
Photo: Sam Mooy (Getty Images)

Facebook will allow users in Australia to read and share news on the social media platform again following negotiations with the Australian government, according to Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg and representatives from Facebook. Who blinked first? That’s a matter of interpretation, it would seem.

Facebook previously blocked all news sharing on the site for the past five days in retaliation for a proposed Australian law that would force large tech companies to share profits with news publishers, something called the Media Code. Google also planned to block search in Australia over the proposed Code, something that seems increasingly unlikely as the tech giants continue to negotiate down under.

Both sides in the battle have claimed victory, with Facebook saying that it will no longer be subject to a forced negotiation with publishers over paying for news, and politicians saying they’re satisfied with the “advanced negotiations” Facebook has conducted with Australian news creators like Seven West Media and the Seven TV network.

Advertisement

“Well, Facebook has refriended Australia, and Australian news will be restored to the Facebook platform,” Frydenberg told reporters in the capitol city of Canberra on Tuesday. “Facebook has committed to entering into good-faith negotiations with Australian news media business in seeking to reach agreements to pay for content.”

“I have no doubt that so many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia because of this innovative Code the [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison government is now pursuing, so Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia. And that is why they have sought to get a Code here that is workable,” said Frydenberg.

But Facebook is positioning this as a win for the social media giant, naturally, making it sound like the government blinked first.

“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,” Campbell Brown, vice president of Global News Partnerships at Facebook, told Gizmodo over email.

Advertisement

“We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. 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,” Brown continued.

“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,” said Brown.

Advertisement

Facebook did not elaborate on how quickly news pages will be restored but a test by Gizmodo revealed that users still can’t post news. Anyone who tries to post a link to a news site receives a message that reads, “In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

Illustration for article titled Facebook Promises to Let Users Share News in Australia Again After Negotiations With Government

Screenshot: Facebook/Gizmodo

Advertisement

Frydenberg’s office published a blog post on Tuesday going into more detail about what changes they’ve floated to the Media Code that will be more palatable to Facebook’s interests:

  • a decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses;
  • a digital platform will be notified of the Government’s intention to designate prior to any final decision – noting that a final decision on whether or not to designate a digital platform would be made no sooner than one month from the date of notification;
  • non-differentiation provisions will not be triggered because commercial agreements resulted in different remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arose in the course of usual business practices; and
  • final offer arbitration is a last resort where commercial deals cannot be reached by requiring mediation, in good faith, to occur prior to arbitration for no longer than two months.

Advertisement

Not a bad job, from the Australian government’s point of view. They asked for the moon, and got half of it. The question becomes whether this deal actually helps publishers in Australia or if the money only goes to guys like Rupert Murdoch and his media empire.

Murdoch was the main driver behind the Media Code, so we can probably bet who will actually benefit from this new scheme. But good for you guys. Way to win one for the little guy. Or, the slightly smaller guy, as it were.

Advertisement