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Facebook to lift ban on Australia's news after standoff as Canberra agrees to amend law forcing Big Tech to pay media

Facebook to lift ban on Australia's news after standoff as Canberra agrees to amend law forcing Big Tech to pay media
Facebook has vowed to revive thousands of Australian news pages after the government said it would amend its new media code, which requires web platforms to pay for news content, following a weeklong standoff.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook had promised “to restore Australian news pages in the coming days” in a statement on Tuesday, noting the Scott Morrison administration would soon introduce “further amendments” to the media bargaining code.

“These amendments will provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” Frydenberg said.

The treasurer gave a broad description of what the new amendments would do, suggesting they would refine how the government designates platforms to account for whether they have made “a significant contribution” to the Australian media industry. He also said the changes would “add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations outside the Code,” indicating they may loosen rules around private arbitration.

READ MORE: Collateral damage? Facebook’s purge of Australian news ‘inadvertently’ hits charities, health organizations & government pages

Facebook has confirmed it’s lifting the news blackout, stating that Canberra “has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address” its “core concerns,” namely the value Facebook says it provides to news publishers.

Facebook had been stuck at an impasse with Canberra for more than a week following the passage of the media code, which would have forced the firm to pay media outlets for content shared on the platform. While the company insisted it already provided billions in free traffic to the news sites, the new code would have compelled it to fork over the money regardless, prompting Facebook to bar all Australian news pages and their content. 

The company reportedly held talks with officials from the Morrison administration last Friday, not long after the PM insisted he would not back down to “some sort of threat” from a social media platform. However, Tuesday’s announcement has stoked allegations that it did just that, with observers online arguing the government had “caved” to the tech behemoth just days after the new code came into force.

Some, however, suggested that it was Facebook that did the backpedaling.

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