Governments, publishers mull effect of Meta options

Apr 02, 2024 at 02:13 pm by admin

What are we going to do about a problem like Meta? It sounds like a line from the Sound of Music, but it seems both Australia and Canada are on the same songsheet.

Meanwhile former Aussie regulator Rod Sims – who penned the news bargaining code Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) seems intent on sidestepping – says the government should pass legislation forcing social media companies to publish news… and presumably, pay for it.

Australian communications minister Michelle Rowland is reported to have held talks with her counterpart in Canada – where Meta shut its ‘news’ tab earlier – discussing ways of regulating Meta.

Meta has said Facebook will begin downgrading news content for Australian users this week, and it will not renegotiate deals on paying for news content when they expire this year.

The Australian government has been highly critical of the Meta moves – dubbed “un-Australian” by prime minister Anthony Albanese – but it’s not clear what options are open to them under current legislation.

Media reports over the weekend have suggested that the nation’s wellbeing, security even, will be at risk when the major social media site stops publishing “news” – a definition taken to imply reports sourced from publishers, and possibly including fire and flood warnings – but it’s not clear what options are open to legislators.

Rowland – who has reportedly been talking to Canadian heritage minister Pascale St Ongle – said the “Meta agenda” was is not exclusive to Australia and Canada. “It’s a playbook they have… being played out in the US and Europe”.

She also expressed concern over lack of transparency, lack of regulation “and the way in which (Meta) reacts to any regulation or potential regulation” which demonstrated “a complete disregard of the fundamental tenets of what we value in terms of our media ecosystem”.

Sims, who left his post as head of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission two years ago, says the Albanese government should force social media platforms to publish news content in an effort to combat the growth of “more outrageous content” that reinforces users’ own views and interests.

Publishers groups have expressed their concerns about the financial implications of Meta ceasing its multi-million-dollar payouts.

This morning regional media group the Local and Independent Media Association warned that smaller publishers would be “disproportionately impacted” should Meta remove news content from Facebook and Instagram in response to government designation, “with the Australian public bearing the brunt of the impact”.

LINA executive director Claire Stuchbery pointed to the impact on publishers “excluded from the opportunity to engage in commercial deals for funding from Meta under the news media bargaining code, with the primary hurdle being the high threshold of the revenue test”.

For those, website display advertising is their greatest income, and this would be “highly impacted” by the loss of website traffic driven by social media if Meta removed news content from Facebook and Instagram.

She said government support would be needed to counter this financial loss and support newsrooms to strengthen alternative income sources and transition to new ones. “Local newsrooms have everything to lose, but very little to gain from designation,” she said.

The local and independent publishers played a critical role in combatting misinformation and disinformation, supporting community health and safety – including emergency preparedness and resilience – promoting workforce development and fostering social cohesion and civic engagement. “They are also key to platforming diverse voices and experiences, as these tend to be the most affected by the closure of larger newsrooms and the rising syndication of content,” she said.

The removal of news content from these platforms would particularly impact the 20 per cent of hyperlocal newsrooms launched within the past four years. “Many of these newsrooms were formed in response to a need to verify misinformation or fill news deserts with locally-relevant updates during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the context of rising natural disasters and the advancement of generative AI technology.”

She said support was key “not just to the survival of smaller newsrooms, but to the overall health and functioning of Australian democracy”.

Peter Coleman

Sections: Digital business


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