CANBERRA (Reuters) – The architect of Australian media reforms being watched around the world claimed victory on Wednesday, even as critics said concessions to the laws forcing Big Tech to pay for news content have given Facebook and Google a get-out clause.
The Australian government made late changes to the laws after Facebook last week blocked news content in Australia, escalating a dispute over the proposed legislation and catching international attention.
The amended legislation is expected to pass the Senate this week, despite opposition from some minor opposition parties and independent politicians who argue it disadvantages smaller news companies.
Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), told Reuters the bargaining power imbalance he was tasked with correcting had been addressed.
“The changes the government’s done are things that either don’t matter much or are just to clarify things that, at least in Facebook’s mind, were unclear,” said Sims, who led the drafting of the legislation.
“Whatever they say, they need news. It keeps people on their platform longer – they make more money.”
With Australia’s reforms serving as a model for other nations to adopt, Facebook was also keen to claim a win.
Facebook Vice President of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown stressed the company had retained the ability to decide if news appeared on its platform and could sidestep the forced negotiation for content payment under the original legislation.
In a key amendment to the legislation, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was given the discretion to decide that either Facebook or Google need not be subject to the code, if they make a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry.”
The original legislation had required Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to submit to arbitration if they could not reach a commercial deal with Australian news companies for their content, effectively allowing the government to set a price.
Facebook, which contends news accounts for just 4% of traffic on its site in Australia, said it would restore news on Australian pages in the coming days.