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IFJ, MEAA condemn Facebook threat to ban Australian users sharing news

The IFJ and MEAA have called on lawmakers to ensure Facebook and other tech giants pay a fair share for the content they are exploiting for free. Image: IFJ Asia-Pacific

Pacific Media Watch

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA) have condemned the global tech giant Facebook’s threat to ban users in Australia from sharing news on its social media platforms if a proposed regulatory code to make them pay for news content becomes law.

The IFJ and MEAA have called on lawmakers to ensure Facebook and other tech giants pay a fair share for the content they are exploiting for free, IFJ said in a statement.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) code, released on July 31 would require tech giants to pay news media for sharing their content.

Under the proposal, digital companies like Google and Facebook would have three months to negotiate an agreement with the media. After that period, an independent body would impose a deal.

The MEAA has made submissions at different stages of the consultation process calling for a fair share for creators.

Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton rejected the proposed code, arguing they already drive traffic to Australian media to the benefit of the news organisations and threatened to prohibit users sharing news on Facebook and Instagram.

“The response from Facebook and Google is not unexpected and should not deter the Government from continuing to implement the mandatory code,” MEAA’s chief executive and IFJ executive committee member Paul Murphy said.

Critical media moment
The proposed code comes at a critical moment for Australian local, regional, and national media. According to the MEAA, since January 2019, more than 200 broadcast and print newsrooms have closed temporarily or for good.

So far, in 2020, the covid-19 pandemic has worsened the media economy, causing the suspension or permanent closure of more than 100 newspapers.

In some cases, media closures have created news deserts, with communities losing access to all local news coverage, threatening the right to be informed.

In this context, Google and Facebook have increased their revenues by exploiting news articles for free.

According to a University of Canberra report, 39 percent of Australians use Facebook for general news, and 49 percent use Facebook for information about covid-19.

The ACCC draft proposal seeks to balance these inequalities and help the whole Australian industry relieve the impact of the current crisis, save jobs, and avoid creating news deserts in Australia.

While welcoming the step forward, the IFJ and the MEAA have expressed concerns over how this new revenue will be distributed among the media, media workers, freelancers and emerging sustainable journalism projects.

IFJ general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “For decades, Google and Facebook have built a fortune upon media workers all over the world. Now they must pay their fair share.

“Their profits should be taxed, and funds raised used to support journalism.

“Australia’s draft code is a first step towards addressing the imbalance between global tech giants and local media and should inspire other countries to develop laws to ensure these companies cannot simply rip of content and profit off the backs of media workers,” he said.

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