Politicians in both the UK and Europe are currently considering new laws similar to those being introduced by Australia that sparked the social media giant’s shock move on Thursday.
Henry Faure Walker, the deputy chairman of the UK News Media Association which advocates media companies, said Facebook’s ban in Australia showed why new laws were needed.
He said a blanket ban on news during a global 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”.
“The recent deals struck between Google in Australia and news publishers are a welcome acknowledgement of the principle that independent journalism has to be paid for,” Faure Walker said.
“However, 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.”
Facebook recently struck a financial deal with publishers and news outlets in the UK by creating a Facebook News tab on its mobile app.
The licensing agreement allows Facebook to use headlines and article previews from the news outlets it penned deals with.
The move came after widespread concern tech giants were draining revenue from news sites and running them out of business.
The UK government commissioned an independent review into the future of journalism in 2019 which found tech companies like Google and Facebook should have a “news quality obligation”.
British MP Julian Knight backed the Australian Government’s move to tighten laws on tech giants.
“Australia’s democratically elected government is democratically elected. And they have the right to make laws and legislation. And it’s, it’s really disrespecting democracy to act in this fashion,” Mr Knight, who chairs a media committee, told Sky News UK.
“It is one of the most idiotic but also deeply disturbing corporate moves of our lifetimes.”
EU and UK eyeing similar new laws
The EU’s executive Commission has proposed new rules aimed at taming the biggest digital “gatekeepers”. Proposals working their way through negotiations among lawmakers from the 27-member bloc’s parliament could be amended to include elements of Australia’s model.
Britain, which recently left the EU, is planning similar digital reforms that include shaking up the relationship between online platforms and news publishers.
“There’s definitely an influence” from Australia, said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, a lobbying group for media companies. “It is being closely monitored by all who have a stake in the outcome.”
The EU has already laid out a way for publishers and news companies to strike licensing deals with online platforms under revamped copyright rules. France was the first country to adopt those rules into national legislation but Google initially balked at payments. However, a court ordered it into talks with a publishing group that resulted in a framework for negotiating individual deals.
One part of the Australian model that has caught attention in Europe is the requirement for binding arbitration if payment talks don’t lead to an agreement, which Google has resisted because it would give the company less control.
Mills Wade said several leading EU lawmakers want to add an arbitration mechanism to the digital regulations.
“Given that Google and Facebook have been undermining the scope of the publishers’ right it is clear that regulatory measures are needed, especially the final arbitration mechanism,” said Mills Wade. “Otherwise the majority of publishers won’t have the negotiating power to reach agreements.”
Google has reached pay deals with more than 450 publications globally since it launched News Showcase in October.
Google has been striking other news payment deals, including a multi-year agreement with tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Mills Wade welcomed that deal, saying it shows Google puts “enormous value” on news content.
“However, regulators in Australia, but also in Europe, should not be misled into thinking that single deals, especially just before comprehensive laws come into effect, are the answer to ensuring the fair remuneration due to all publishers large and small, whose content is used by Google,” she said.