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Facebook to lift news blockade in Australia after deal with govt

The social media giant has agreed to pay local media companies for content.

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NEW DELHI: Facebook said Tuesday it will lift a contentious ban on Australian news and pay local media companies for content, after a down to the wire deal on pending landmark legislation, the news media bargaining code.

“After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them. As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” the social networking giant said in a statement.

The social media firm sparked global outrage last week by blacking out news for its Australian users in protest at the proposed legislation, and inadvertently blocking a series of non-news Facebook pages linked to everything from cancer charities to emergency response services.

Prime minister Scott Morrison had angrily accused Facebook of making a decision to "unfriend" Australia.

Facebook’s acquisition to the reworked code is a major victory in Australia’s efforts to make two major gateways to the internet, Google and Facebook, pay for the journalism that they use — a faceoff that governments and tech companies the world over have watched closely. Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because of the proposed law, but that threat has faded.

The search engine behemoth has already brokered deals worth millions of dollars with local media companies, including the two largest: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and Nine Entertainment. And just hours after the compromise was unveiled, Facebook announced its first proposed deal with an Australian media company, Seven West, and was said to be pursuing commercial deals with other local news organisations.

The company is expected to use the content to launch a dedicated news product in Australia later this year.

Commentators described the eleventh-hour amendments – which came as the Australian parliament looks set to pass the law this week – as "a reasonable compromise.”

Both Facebook and Google now have an additional two months to reach further agreements that would stave off binding arbitration.

The legislation was designed to curb the outsized bargaining power of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

Now, under the more workable code, the US digital firms will avoid being subjected to mandatory payments that could cost them vastly more and create what they see as an alarming global precedent.

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