Facebook is 'schoolyard bully' in Australia news row, says UK media boss

Facebook’s move to block all media content in Australia shows why countries need robust regulation to stop tech firms behaving like a “schoolyard bully”, the head of the UK’s news media trade group has said.Henry Faure Walker, the chair of the News Media Association, said Facebook’s ban during a pandemic was “a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves”.Australians have been blocked from viewing or sharing news on the social network in an escalation of a row over whether Facebook should have to pay media companies for displaying their content.
Facebook is opposed to the federal government’s news media code, which will require it and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price. Google and Facebook have said the code unfairly penalises their platforms.The legislation, which the government says is aimed at “levelling the playing field” between the tech firms and struggling publishers, is expected to be passed by the Australian parliament within days, prompting Google to agree preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.

Overnight on Wednesday Facebook – which is used by 18 million Australians – prevented the sharing of news and wiped clean the pages of media companies, including the public broadcaster’s television, radio and non-news pages. Government pages – including on bushfires, mental health, emergency services and even meteorology – were also blocked, as were community, women’s health and domestic violence support pages.

Faure Walker said: “Facebook’s actions in Australia demonstrate precisely why we need jurisdictions across the globe, including the UK, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers.”Julian Knight, the chair of the British parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, echoed Faure Walker when he told Reuters: “This action – this bullyboy action – that they’ve undertaken in Australia will I think ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world.

“We represent people and I’m sorry but you can’t run bulldozer over that – and if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco.”

Guardian Media Group, which owns the Guardian and the Observer, said Facebook’s action cleared the way for the spread of misinformation at a time when facts and clarity are sorely needed.

“We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy,” a spokesman said. “We have consistently argued that governments must play a role when it comes to establishing fair and transparent regulation of online platforms.”

Hours before Facebook’s move, Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp signed a multi-year partnership that will lead to the search engine paying for journalism from news sites around the world including the Wall Street Journal, the Times and the Australian.Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Thursday that Facebook’s show of strength would “confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of big tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them”.

He wrote on Facebook: “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”

The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the ban confirmed the “immense market power of these media digital giants. These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape. The Morrison government remains absolutely committed to legislating and implementing the code.”Tim O’Connor from Amnesty International Australia said it was “extremely concerning” that a private company was willing to control access to information on which people rely. “Facebook’s action starkly demonstrates why allowing one company to exert such dominant power over our information ecosystem threatens human rights,” O’Connor said.
Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch Australia, said it was a “dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”

Facebook blamed the Australian government’s definition of news content in the media bargaining code for the “inadvertent” blanket ban on government pages – an interpretation the government rejects.

“Government pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement,” a Facebook spokesperson said. The company said it would reverse the ban on those pages, and by midday on Thursday some pages had been restored, including those run by the Bureau of Meteorology and the state health departments.
Facebook argues that the British media market is different, after it launched Facebook News through partnerships with publishers such as the Daily Mail group, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph.EU countries do not face the same situation as Australia because of new copyright rules that protect publishers in Europe, the bloc’s executive has said.Reuters contributed to this report

Similar Articles:

Years of Mark Zuckerberg's old Facebook posts have vanished. The company says it 'mistakenly deleted' them.

Years of Mark Zuckerberg's old Facebook posts have vanished. The company says it 'mistakenly deleted' them.

You Can Finally See All Of The Info Facebook Collected About You From Other Websites

You Can Finally See All Of The Info Facebook Collected About You From Other Websites

I freaked out when I saw what sites were telling Facebook about me

I freaked out when I saw what sites were telling Facebook about me

Facebook is partnering with a big UK newspaper to publish sponsored articles downplaying 'technofears' and praising the company

Facebook is partnering with a big UK newspaper to publish sponsored articles downplaying 'technofears' and praising the company