Behind the Facebook News Ban
OLIVIA CHAN | NEWS
Breaking news. Or more accurately, a lack of news. On the 18th of February, Facebook had banned all news within Australia from being shared, which affected media corporations yet also many government and not-for-profit pages. Even Grapeshot’s Facebook page was caught in the onslaught. Unsurprisingly, there was a nationwide outrage as the unsettling smog of a lack of freedom of press drifted. Yet, what was the reason?
On the 9th of December last year, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 was introduced to Parliament. This is commonly known as the News Media Bargaining Code which compels Facebook and Google to pay media publishers for sharing their content. According to the Code, its purpose is to “address the bargaining power imbalance that exists between digital platforms and Australian news businesses” and therefore “support public interest journalism.”
Furthermore, after Facebook’s last-minute act to salvage any concessions, the Australian government made an amendment to the proposed bill. The main change was for the Treasurer to first take into consideration whether a commercial agreement had been reached with news companies.
What does “public interest journalism” mean?
As the term itself is vague, public interest journalism basically means the disclosure of information journalists pursue that they believe the public ought to know and would otherwise be swept under the rug. Therefore, the Code aims to invigorate the freedom of press as a reflection of our democracy.
Isn’t Australian media “free”?
Firstly, the decline of the general public’s interest in the news during the social media age has perpetuated the deterioration of news companies. In return, the quality of journalism has decreased, which can be physically reflected by reduced newspaper thickness.
Secondly, with the Murdoch media empire owning over half of Australian media companies, the issue of media uniformity already exists. Here, according to Professor Simon Wilkie, the Head of Monash Business School, if the funds from Google and Facebook can be funded towards small to medium public interest news producers, there would be greater media diversity in Australia for a healthier public interest media landscape. However, the new Code fails to address whether larger media companies would convert greater funds into higher quality journalism.
Why is media diversity important?
Media diversity is vital for consumers in order to gain multiple perspectives and maintain an open-mind towards public interests. This is because each company has their own set of values, which are normally manifested through the types of articles produced and perspectives they are written from.
Summarily, the Facebook news ban was a last resort to win concessions against the News Media Bargaining Code before it was passed in the Senate, which was passed on the evening of the 23rd of February, 2021. Simply, Facebook took action to avoid forking out money, of which many Facebook users were ‘zucced’ into.