No more the ‘free’ lunch: Meta’s millions for news end

Mar 01, 2024 at 04:18 pm by admin

Predicatably, Meta has said it will no longer support its Facebook news tab and won’t be renewing the three-year agreements it has with some Australian publishers.

Anyone who didn’t see that coming wasn’t looking both ways.

The company’s announcement comes as fellow big tech giant Google comes to the end of its programme of handouts to publishers.

Likely prompted on the subject, prime minister Anthony Albanese and his communications minister Michelle Rowland have both laid into Meta, accusing the platform of “abrogation of responsibility” to Australia’s media sector (Rowland) and “not the Australian way” (Albanese).

Yet one wonders what they really expected.

Australia’s world-leading bargaining code – to which Meta had in any case, been led by the nose – provided a framework under which news media would be paid for the use of their content. But Meta has moved away from its dependence on news and seems likely to move away from it altogether, the world having moved on since the days when the legislation was framed

Yes, as Rowland said, “the decision undermines the viability of a healthy, democratic, open media…. (and) removes a significant source of revenue to Australian news media publishers”.

But when did either tech giant express – let alone feel – an obligation to support the media? With legislation in place, albeit softened by Meta’s strong opposition, Facebook is unlikely to be courting fines and legal action it can easily avoid.

Its statement said existing deal under the code in Australia (as well as France and Germany) were not affected; those in the US and UK have already expired.

Traffic to the hard-to-find news tab had fallen 80 per cent, according to the platform, hardly surprising in the circumstances.


‘deprecated’ – a programme or application that is no longer supported or maintained by its developer.


Albanese’s comment, and that of Rowland and assistant treasurer Stephen Jones – has been welcomed with News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller, who greeted “the government's support for the Australian media industry and its wholehearted commitment to upholding our laws and the News Media Bargaining Code”.

He said Meta was using its “immense market power to refuse to negotiate, and the government is right to explore every option for how the Media Bargaining Code’s powers can be used.

“Meta is attempting to mislead Australians by saying its decision is about the closure of its news tab product, however the vast majority of news on Facebook and Meta is and will continue to be consumed outside this product.”

He said Meta’s decision would directly impact the viability of Australia's many small and regional publishers and this is a pressing issue for the government to confront. “We will work in any way we can to assist the processes the government is putting in place.”

For Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Australian Financial Review publisher Nine Entertainment, Mike Sneesby recognised the government’s comments that Meta had “acted unreasonably” and said it would work “closely and constructively” to achieve a fair outcome.

Seven West chief executive James Warburton said the government needed to use its legislation to “designate” Meta under the code.

Australian Community Media managing director Tony Kendall described Meta’s decision as “outrageous” and called for the government to stop advertising on the platform.

“This is a hugely disappointing decision and a sad day for news and journalism in Australia,” he said.

“That the world’s largest social media company is no longer willing to pay its fair share for the quality Australian news and trusted information that lends its Facebook platform what is left of its credibility is, frankly, outrageous.”

He said Meta’s move would significantly affect ACM’s business and “fuel the explosion of fake news and other junk proliferating on social media.

“We hope that Australians who want actual news in their so-called “newsfeed” will seriously consider boycotting Facebook.”

He said he hoped the government would be prepared to use the code to force Meta to negotiate with Australian media companies such as ACM over the content its journalists, photographers and editors provide.

Among other comments, Australia’s Public Interest Journalism Initiative described Meta’s announcement as “a major blow to the production of public interest news in this country and a loss of millions of dollars to the sector.

“Public interest news production in Australia needs long-term structural reform, as well as immediate attention,” said chief executive Anna Draffin.

Impact of a series of “sequential and overlapping shocks” including the decline of publishers’ business model, accelerated during the pandemic and the advent of generative AI” could be seen in newsroom closures, declines in news producers' earnings, as well as declines in advertising spend.

“A democracy cannot function without a healthy news sector,” she said. “We know this is a priority for government and it must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The difficulty remains of getting any private corporation to make a contribution to such a cause when not required to do so.

This week’s Senate inquiry was a reminder that free-to-air broadcasters are still licensed; perhaps such a system – enforced through internet providers – could take a fee from tech giants, though no doubt such options were canvassed when the original code was being crafted.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Facebook picks up the meal tab at a newsmedia conference in Bali, Indonesia in November 2014

Sections: Digital business


I had to go looking for that News tab. To say I don't use it is almost a severe understatement.
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