Australian PM discusses with Modi Facebook blockade over new law

The new law would force Facebook and Google to pay the publishers for their journalistic content

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There was public outrage at how the Facebook blockade was bungled, cutting access to pandemic, public health and emergency services | Representative Photo: iStock

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday (February 19) said that he has discussed with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi the showdown between Canberra and Facebook which prompted the tech firm to black out news on its platform across the country.

The issue pertains to the Australian government’s new legislation, News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, expected to be adopted as a law by the week’s end, which would force Facebook and Google to pay for journalistic content.

While Australia has asserted it won’t back down, Facebook refused to submit to the latest legislation. The social media giant on Thursday blanked out pages of news outlets for the Australian users, who are also not being allowed to share any news content.

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Prime Minister Morrison has described Facebook’s move as a threat. The blockade has also escalated a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content.

“The idea of shutting down the sorts of sites they did yesterday, as some sort of threat — well, I know how Australians react to that and I thought that was not a good move on their part. They should move quickly past that, come back to the table and we’ll sort it out,” said Morrison.

There was public outrage at how the blockade was bungled, cutting access to pandemic, public health and emergency services. Facebook’s power play might easily backfire, given how concerned many governments have grown about the firm’s unchecked influence over society, democracy and political discourse.

Related news | Here is why Australia is at war with Facebook and the issues at stake

Besides Modi, Morrison said that he has discussed the issue with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau too. He also said global leaders are getting interested in his government’s law which would force Facebook and Google to pay for news content on their platforms. He said he is also discussing the proposed law with leaders of Britain, Canada, and France.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said that negotiations would continue over the weekend to find a solution to the showdown. Facebook tried to defend its blackout action, saying it has no choice but to bar news content and that the legislation “misunderstands” the platform’s relationship with media outlets.

The Australian law hasn’t gone into effect. Negotiations between the tech companies, the government and the nation’s media giants most notably, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp may result in changes to the final version.

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