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Facebook to reverse its ban on news in Australia

The company has not ruled out a future news ban

After a tense wait for Australian media outlets, Facebook promised on Tuesday afternoon to restore news for Australian users in the coming days.

Facebook is set to reverse its ban on news content in Australia after the federal government agreed to concessions on its proposed media bargaining code.

After a tense wait for Australian media outlets, Facebook promised on Tuesday afternoon to restore news for Australian users in the coming days. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher have signaled that the code may not apply to Facebook if it has struck enough deals with news outlets. 

However, the company has warned that it may pull news from Australia again if the government later decides to apply the code to Facebook.

Facebook restricted Australian users from viewing or sharing news content on Thursday morning, after negotiations with the government broke down.

The ban was applied to news outlets not covered under the code, such as student media organisations, and seemingly unrelated pages such as the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency alert pages. Facebook apologised and restored non-news pages, but kept student and independent media pages locked.

The National Union of Students, alongside 27 student media and representative organisations, released a statement criticising the ban and highlighting how students depend on social media platforms to access news. 

The proposed code requires digital platforms with substantial “market power” like Facebook, Google and any platforms they own to negotiate revenue deals with major Australian news outlets for publishing news content on their platform. Before the ban, Facebook received a significant share of advertising revenue when an Australian user clicked on or read a news article.

It also includes what is known as “final offer arbitration” – if a deal cannot be reached within three months, an independent arbitrator will make a binding decision on which of the two proposed deals will apply.

Other amendments proposed on Tuesday include that the government must notify digital platforms if it decides the code applies to them, taking into account any deals they have struck.

Google signed a $30 million deal with Nine (publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald) last week, backing down from its initial threat to remove its Search function from Australia. A number of other news organisations have since made similar deals.

Frydenberg promised that Facebook will now engage in “good faith” negotiations with relevant media outlets. The code is likely to pass the Senate this week.