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Australia passes bill to compel Google, Facebook to pay for news

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    Kyodo News

Canberra, Australia   /   Thu, February 25, 2021   /   12:20 pm
Australia passes bill to compel Google, Facebook to pay for news Australian senators practise social distancing in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak guidelines as they attend a scaled-down session in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra on March 23, 2020. (Agence France Presse/Mick Tsikas)

The Australian parliament passed a bill on Thursday that will force tech giants Facebook and Google to pay local media outlets for news, making the country the first to enact a so-called media bargaining code.

The government introduced the bill after its antitrust regulator concluded that the US companies hold too much power in the Australian media landscape.

The code provides a framework for Google and Facebook to negotiate a price it can pay media outlets for access to their news content. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement, an arbitration process kicks in, allowing an independent moderator to set the price.

"This is a significant milestone," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Twitter after the bill's passage. "This legislation will help level the playing field and see Australian news media businesses paid for generating original content."

But both tech giants had balked at the proposed code.

In January, Google, which is owned by Alphabet, threatened to stop Australian residents from being able to access its web search, while more recently, Facebook abruptly banned Australian users from viewing and sharing international and domestic news on the social media platform.

In the days leading up to the bill's passage, Google signed independent deals with major Australian news companies to pay for their services.

Facebook said Tuesday it would lift the ban soon, after the government announced amendments to the legislation, including allowing a two-month mediation period before an arbitrator steps in as a last resort.

A local media outlet said the same day it has reached an agreement with Facebook to provide news content.

In a joint statement with communications minister Paul Fletcher on Thursday, Frydenberg stressed the code "encourages parties to undertake commercial negotiations outside the code."

He added that the government is "pleased to see progress by both Google and more recently Facebook in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media businesses."

However, it remains to be seen what impact the change will have on smaller and independent media outlets that wield less clout than large players, with their ability to secure such deals much more uncertain.