The following statement is attributable to Public Interest Journalism (PIJI) Chair Professor Allan Fels. Professor Fels is also former Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

“We note this morning’s move by Facebook to block the sharing of Australian news content on its platform.

The Government has been aware of the possibility of a FB withdrawal or prevention of the sharing of news content, so this would not come as a complete surprise. It is not unusual for market participants to threaten withdrawal or restriction of services in the face of market regulation.

However, we urge Facebook to be cautious. It is unconscionable for Facebook to limit access to Australian Government information, be it weather, health or bushfire information. This is not ‘news’, nor content envisaged under the Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code.

The mandatory News Media Bargaining Code seeks to address a significant market power imbalance. That is the role of the ACCC and government, to ensure a level playing field. Currently, more than 80% of online advertising is directed to digital platforms, which have previously demonstrated a lack of willingness to negotiate with news organisations around the value of their content in the generation of this revenue.

The costs of producing public interest journalism are high, but it is integral to the functioning of any working democracy.

News media has supported the code, with its underlying principle to safeguard public interest journalism and level the playing field in this space.

We also note that in we are living in an era of misinformation and disinformation, or should I say, ‘fake news’.

We urge FB to sit at the table and negotiate in good faith, as Google appears to be doing.

Also we note that the Australian Government has asked the digital industry to develop a code of practice on how they address disinformation.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) will be releasing that new code within weeks. FB’s announcement seems to run counter to community sentiment for tech giants to act in good faith and demonstrate their social license to operate.”

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