Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg has failed to quash Australia’s proposed news payment policy after speaking with Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher.
The call took place as part of an ongoing conflict between the Australian Government and tech giants Facebook and Google over the country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code. This law aims to make the big tech companies pay for news content from Australian publishing companies.
However, Zuckerberg failed to persuade the Australian lawmakers to change policy, according to Frydenberg.
Whilst keeping details of the “very constructive discussion” quiet, he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.: “No, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t convince me to back down if that’s what you’re asking.”
However, he added that additional talks are likely to take place. “We’re in detailed discussions with Google, with Facebook, with the other players across the industry, because this has not been a short conversation that we’ve had with these companies,” he said.
“At every step of the way, these businesses have been consulted,” he added. “What I do know is media businesses should be paid for content.”
A Facebook spokesperson noted that the company was working with the Australian government to find a “workable framework to support Australia’s news ecosystem,” and said that meetings between company executives and government stakeholders occurred regularly.
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The battle between Australia and Facebook dates to July 2020 when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) introduced a draft of the code.
The legislation was created to address concerns about an imbalanced power dynamic between small news publishers and major digital platforms.
However, the tech companies claim they provide publicity to news outlets and access to an audience. They also pointed to larger concerns about government intervention in the free market.
Facebook has threatened to block news content in Australia over the proposed law. It has also called for a six months’ grace period to negotiate deals with news companies directly before mandatory regulations apply.
Google has also claimed the move could see user data handed over to big businesses in an open letter and warned that its free search service would be “at risk”.
The law is currently being debated by the Australian senate with an inquiry currently hearing from industry stakeholders and is due to be voted on early this year. Australian opposition party Labor is expected to endorse the code after a shadow cabinet meeting took place this week.
Google recently escalated the conflict by threatening to withdraw its search engine service from Australia, though other services like Gmail and YouTube would still be available.
The statement came after reports that Australian news websites were not showing up in Google searches. The company said that it had blocked about 1% of Australian users as part of a test to determine the value of its service to Australian news outlets.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also recently revealed that he spoke with Microsoft, which runs a rival search engine, Bing. Without giving details, he noted that Microsoft was ready to grow its search engine presence in Australia.
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The conflict between Facebook and Google on one side and Australia on the other come at a time of growing tensions between government authorities and tech giants. While the US and EU have had hearings and made proposals to counter the power of the big techs, Australia is one of the first countries to take concrete steps.
As such, the success or failure of the Australian Government could determine how other countries move forward. A successful boycott by the big techs would illustrate the consequences a country faces for standing up to them.
However, if the boycott fails, the tech majors may find that they are now bargaining from a much weaker position. Even if a boycott has a negative effect on Australia, it may drive other governments to treat the big tech’s services more like a utility with greater government control.