Terrible impact of Meta refusing to renew commercial agreements with Australian media

The announcement by Meta that it will not renew commercial agreements it has with Australian media will have a devastating impact on all Australians.

Cancelling those commercial agreements will obstruct the ability of millions of Australians to access reliable and trusted news and information about the communities in which they live.

The news and information that people seek when they get up in the morning, and throughout their day, is often found on Facebook, but Facebook is merely the conduit for trusted media sources.

Yes, journalism needs to be discoverable and available on platforms like Facebook – there is no escaping this – but equally, media companies need to be compensated for creating the content that resonates and also profits the digital platforms.

The repercussions of Meta’s decision will affect rural and regional communities in particular. Have no doubt, jobs will be lost, titles will close, communities will be at risk of not receiving the quality local news they deserve, and our democracy as a whole will suffer.

Publications, especially longstanding mastheads serving regional Australians, have been challenged as Facebook has hoovered up the valuable advertising dollars that once supported them.

The Australian government must protect these smaller communities who will be the real victims of Meta’s decision to not compensate publications for the local news they produce.

“Meta’s move will significantly affect our business,” says Managing Director Tony Kendall of Australian Community Media, which is Australia’s largest publisher of rural and regional titles.

“It will also, sadly, fuel the explosion of fake news and other junk proliferating on social media.”

This isn’t about media companies whining over lost revenue, it’s about ensuring they are properly compensated so that they are sustainable in continuing to serve their local communities.

The News Media Bargaining Code was passed by both houses of parliament in 2021. It provides a framework designed to encourage digital platforms to voluntarily negotiate “a fair price to pay to publish the news of an Australian news business and/or corporation”.

Without the payments by Facebook to publishers for using their journalism, the industry would have had no choice but to cut back on its resourcing and coverage of many local events.

That’s why it is so vital Australia does not buckle to Facebook. And don’t be fooled by the claims of Meta, its parent company, that few Australians are accessing news on their Facebook platform. Meta is just gilding the lily – and knows it.

You might use Facebook, but Facebook also uses you.

Meta – one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world – draws massive advertising revenue in the billions off the back of publishers’ work.

It is estimated Meta was paying Australian media companies close to $250 million a year, significant money that until now has been reinvested into journalism, supported rural reporters and funded trusted news gathering and storytelling to inform and enlighten communities. Now, that money could be gone.

But let’s debunk one of Meta’s most frequent claims about the value of news. Meta says only 3 per cent of its feed is comprised of news article links. But this dramatically understates the role of news on Facebook as it ignores images, videos and other forms of news content.

Even if you accept the 3 per cent as fact, Meta’s market value is over A$1.9 trillion dollars. Three per cent of A$1.9 trillion is A$57 billion, meaning the news industry, even with Meta’s understated figures, creates huge value for Meta’s enormous profit coffers.

In their joint statement, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones (who oversees the Code) said: “Meta’s decision to no longer pay for news content in a number of jurisdictions represents a dereliction of its commitment to the sustainability of Australian news media.

“The Australian government is committed to The News Media Bargaining Code and is seeking advice from Treasury and the ACCC on next steps.”

These are welcome words, supported by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who said on Friday: “We will always stand up as a government for Australian media interest and media diversity.”

Meta’s announcement shows a total disregard for Australian law and the comprehensive work done by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

It shows how little it cares about Australia, the Australian people, and its customers, the very people who use Facebook on a daily basis.

This is why the federal government – and Australians who want to remain reliably informed – must stand up to Facebook’s threat, a threat that would rip the heart out of trusted local news coverage.

Michael Miller is the Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia.

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