UK Should Follow Australia and Make Facebook Pay for News Content: Hancock

Updated: 2021-02-22 22:16:07

Britain should follow Australia and demand that Facebook pay publishers for the news content viewed and shared on its site, Health Secretary Matt Hancock indicated on Sunday.

When asked about a potential UK clampdown on the social media colossus over sharing revenue generated from the content, the former Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Times Radio he had very strong views on this.

“I think this is a very important matter and I’ve got no doubt the culture secretary [Oliver Dowden] will be looking at it very closely,” he said.

Hancock made his remarks on the same day Australian government ministers pulled the plug on advertising on Facebook, a move that could cost the tech giant millions.

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A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken on Jan. 6, 2020. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt said that further advertising on the platform would not occur on his watch “until the issue is resolved.”

“Basically, you have corporate titans acting as sovereign bullies, and they won’t get away with it. We will stand up as a country,” he told ABC

‘Contempt for Fact-Based Journalism’

“Facebook’s Australian news blackout shows both its enormous market power and its contempt for fact-based journalism,” said Peter Lewis, director of Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

Australia’s blockade of advertising on Facebook follows the platform last week banning news-related content to users on its Australian site.

The ban was a reaction to Australia’s planned Media Bargaining law that would force Facebook to reimburse news publishers for the profits it makes through the advertising which appears alongside news content on its site.

Hunt’s accusation of bullying against Facebook echoed a similar assertion last week from senior British lawmaker Julian Knight, chair of the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.

“This action—this bully boy action—that they’ve undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world,” Knight said.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy on Apr. 11, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo, File)

Facebook’s actions also drew staunch criticism from the news industry.

Chairman of the UK’s News Media Association Henry Faure Walker said in a statement that the platform’s abrupt blocking of news in Australia amid a global pandemic “is a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.”

Canada, where the approach is based on copyright law, has also been pushing to make tech giants pay for news content.

Canada’s Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said recently that the federal government will continue to call for legislation to make major tech companies like Google and Facebook pay news outlets.

He said they should pay even where there are voluntary agreements like Google’s News Showcase, which provides a licensing program that pays publishers to curate content on story panels that appear on Google’s services.

Canada’s model would have to be a bespoke one that considers Canadian copyright laws and the country’s international agreements, Guilbeault said, not one that is “contingent on what Google may or may not want to do.”

In November last year, the UK announced plans for the Digital Markets Unit, a new competition regime for tech giants.

The regime will include a code to “support the sustainability of the news publishing industry, helping to rebalance the relationship between publishers and online platforms,” the government said in a statement at the time.

It is consulting on the form and function of the Unit during the early part of this year and will legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows.”

Andrew Chen and Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.


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