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A threat to or protection of the integrity of the news in Australia?

TALLULAH ALLEN | LEGAL JARGON WRITER



Facebook’s response to the ACCC draft law

Facebook has finally announced plans to block users from sharing news articles to their sites (inclusive of Instagram), as tensions between several leading technology firms and Australian governmental regulators continues to rise. The decision has been made in response to a new law, drafted in July and proposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which would require social media outlets and search engines to pay publishers for articles posted on their sites. Naturally, the fiercest critics of this new proposition have been Facebook and Google, with Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Will Easton, claiming that the draft law will have a detrimental effect upon the news organisations that it aims to preserve.


Many news outlets willingly collaborate with Facebook and share their articles on the site in order to generate traffic and it was estimated by Easton that from January to May, Facebook was responsible for $200m worth of clicks (around 2.3 billion) sent back to Australian news websites. This contradicts one of the principal arguments in favour of the ban, which the ACCC insists will secure fair funding for publishers and maintain media diversity.

This demonstrates that Facebook is an effective marketing tool for news companies, who are not always disadvantaged by social media, and are able to, instead, use these sites to favourably promote their material.

The new law has also faced serious scepticism from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He states that the regulation would only generate profits for media giants like Rupert Murdoch, whose company he labels as a “genuine cancer on [Australia’s] democracy,” while there is no real advantage for public interest journalism or media diversity at all. In fact, we should consider that competition could decrease if the proposal is approved, as Murdoch reaps the financial benefits.


In addition, Facebook’s refusal to allow news outlets to share articles on their site would make it more difficult for the public to access a spectrum of viewpoints from publications with a variety of political or ideological affiliations. In turn, media diversity becomes virtually non-existent across social networking sites, as Facebook and Google would no longer wish to share the news at all.


The draft is, therefore, dangerous for both the news publishers and the platforms if the interests of these parties are not carefully considered, and Facebook’s response has received mixed reviews from figures on both sides. Bruce Ellen, the President of Country Press Australia, called the move “pre-emptive and unnecessarily inflammatory,” whereas Rudd insisted that the ACCC instead held a responsibility to “ensure the whole point of this exercise[…]is achieved in a workable way that gives certainty to both the platforms and news publishers.” It is clear that both sides are taking dramatic measures to promote their own interests, and that the integrity of the media – and its relationship with social networking users - is hanging in the balance.




TALLULAH ALLEN


Tallulah is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Cambridge and hopes to train as a solicitor after graduating.


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