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Australia moving ahead with news content law despite Facebook blackout

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Australian officials say they’re forging ahead with efforts to make tech giants pay for news content even after Facebook imposed a media blackout there.

“We’ll be proceeding with the code,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told Australia’s ABC News on Thursday. “We want Google and Facebook to stay in Australia, but we’ve been very clear that if you do business in Australia you need to comply with the laws passed by the elected parliament of this nation.”

Fletcher joined other top officials in decrying Facebook’s decision to block Australian users from viewing or sharing news content on the platform.

The stunning move was a response to Australia’s proposed news media bargaining code, which would allow news publishers to negotiate payments from tech giants for the use of their content that appears in search results or news feeds.

Facebook’s blockade appeared aimed at news publishers, but it also blocked content from other entities including a government weather agency and state health department.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook said it restricted so many Australian pages because the draft law did not clearly define news content; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Getty Images

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on his own Facebook page. “We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code.”

Fletcher said officials were continuing to discuss the proposed law with Facebook as the bill headed for a vote in Australia’s Senate after passing in the House of Representatives.

He noted that Google — which had threatened to shut off its search engine in Australia if the proposal becomes law — took the more conciliatory approach of making deals with news publishers including News Corp., which owns The Post.

The proposal is “about having a diverse, well-resourced media sector in Australia. That’s an important part of our democratic process,” Fletcher told ABC. “May not seem so important perhaps in Silicon Valley but it’s very important to the Australian government and the Australian people.”

Facebook said it restricted so many Australian pages because the draft law did not clearly define news content. The company added that it would restore access to pages that had mistakenly been taken down.

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher
Fletcher said officials were continuing to discuss the proposed law with Facebook.
Getty Images

“The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”

With Post wires

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