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Australia pushes ahead with digital media bill after Facebook news blackout

Update 1: Adds media traffic figures

Sydney, Australia, Feb 19 (efe-epa).- The Australian government said Friday it will push on with approving a bill that requires technology companies to pay media for the content they publish on their platforms, despite the news blackout imposed by Facebook.

Facebook announced on Thursday its decision to prohibit publishers and other users in the country from sharing and viewing news on its platform in response to the bill, which was approved on Wednesday by the Lower House of Australia’s parliament.

The Facebook blockade temporarily affected the profiles of various emergency services, non-governmental organizations and state governments, prompting official criticism of the US company.

“I would just say to Facebook: This is Australia. If you want to do business here, you work according to our rules,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a televised news conference.

Morrison, who says he has the support of several countries in their conflict with the multinational, described the blackout as “some sort of threat” and urged Facebook to change its strategy and return to the negotiating table.

“There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing,” Morrison said.

“That is why I invite … Facebook to constructively engage, because they know that what Australia will do here is likely to be followed by many other Western jurisdictions.”

Morrison on Thursday night criticized Facebook’s move as “arrogant” and warned that his government will not be intimidated.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that on Friday he spoke with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the second consecutive day and that they agreed their respective teams would work “immediately” on the “remaining issues.”

Frydenberg also reiterated that Australia “remains committed to implementing the code” that is currently being pushed through parliament.

“This is all about leveling the playing field, protecting public interest journalism and ensuring journalists are rewarded for generating original content,” Frydenberg told Sky news.

Facebook’s decision to block the publication of news in Australia came after the House of Representatives approved the news code of conduct promoted by the government, which asks technology companies to pay media outlets for their content shared online.

The bill, which will reach the Senate next week, estimates that in the event that tech companies and media firms do not reach a commercial agreement on the amount to be paid, the figure will be decided by an intermediary.

Web traffic in Australian media fell 13 percent following the restrictions according to the country’s public network ABC.

The data collected by the analysis company Chartbeat, used by the Australian channel ABC, shows a general drop in about 250 media outlets as a result of the measure applied Thursday without prior notice by the technology multinational.

Media traffic registered a general drop of 13 percent in readers within Australia, while the drop was greater and reached 30 percent in traffic from abroad, ABC reported. EFE-EPA


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