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Social media giant accused of blackmail against news outlets

Major news outlets have accused Facebook’s parent company of daring the government to take action against it, and warned news could be at risk if it does not.

Jun 21, 2024, updated Jun 21, 2024
Nine Entertainment CEO Mike Sneesby, NewsCorp Australia Executive Chairman Michael Miller and Seven West Media CEO Jeffrey Howard front the an inquiry into Social Media and Australian Society at Parliament House in Canberra. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Nine Entertainment CEO Mike Sneesby, NewsCorp Australia Executive Chairman Michael Miller and Seven West Media CEO Jeffrey Howard front the an inquiry into Social Media and Australian Society at Parliament House in Canberra. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australia’s media establishment has accused tech giant Meta of playing a game of chicken with the federal government by refusing to do deals with local media outlets and “daring” regulators to force them to the negotiating table.

Major media organisations issued claims against Meta at the Social Media and Australian Society inquiry in Canberra on Friday, and warned local news coverage could shrink if the government failed to take action against Facebook’s parent company.

But News Corp, Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media also called on the government to review and extend the reach of the News Media Bargaining Code to cover Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, X and other digital platforms that had risen in popularity since the law was introduced in 2021.

The parliamentary inquiry was called in May after Meta announced it would not renew its commercial deals struck with Australian publishers, in a move estimated to have cost the industry $70 million.

News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller told the inquiry the powerful technology company was attempting to “dictate” terms to Australian companies and daring the federal government to take action against it.

“Right now Meta is preparing to blackmail not just us in the news industry but also you as a government,” Miller said.

“By refusing to renew its agreement to pay for news content, Meta is daring Australia to apply the laws this parliament was united in passing three years ago.

“It is getting ready to say if you dare designate us under the Media Bargaining Code we will punish you by blocking Australian access to local news.”

Under the code, digital platforms that are designated are legally required to negotiate commercial deals with media outlets or face fines of up to 10 per cent of their local revenue.

Nine Entertainment chief executive Mike Sneesby said Meta’s failure to do deals would have “an immediate and detrimental impact on newsrooms around the country” and would put jobs and coverage at risk.

“If these deals are not renewed it will have an impact that is negative to our business,” he said.

“Most certainly if the deals aren’t renewed across the industry, we will see pressure on jobs.”

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Sneesby also told the inquiry that despite Meta’s claims that news content made up a small percentage of its use, its figures showed video views on social media had increased significantly on Facebook and other digital platforms since 2022.

Seven West Media chief executive Jeffrey Howard said in addition to calling Meta to account, the federal government should consider revising the News Media Bargaining Code to include more platforms that had risen in popularity.

Howard pointed to the findings of the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report, released last week, that found Australians were getting their news from a greater number of social networks.

“While Facebook has come down a bit, YouTube, Instagram, X, Facebook Messenger, TikTok, WhatsApp and LinkedIn have all grown. They should be included,” he said.

Meta announced it did not intend to enter further commercial deals with news outlets in Australia and other countries in February in what it said was “part of an ongoing effort to better align our investments to our products and services people value the most”.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Catriona Lowe told the inquiry a decision about whether to designate Meta under the code would fall to the federal assistant treasurer and the commission had provided advice to him about the issue on May 20.

In addition to news deals, the inquiry is expected to consider proposals to limit children’s access to social networks, social media’s effect on mental health, and harmful and illegal content on digital platforms.

The committee is due to present an interim report to parliament by August 15, and a final report by November 18.

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