February 28, 2024

MELBOURNE, Australia – Facebook agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for its journalistic content in Australia a month after the social media platform temporarily blocked news links within the country because legislation pushed digital giants to compensate publishers.

The multi-year deal, announced on Tuesday, includes news content from major conservative Murdoch media outlets such as The Australian, a national newspaper and news site news.com.au, as well as other publications from major cities, regions and communities.

It comes a month after Google announced its own three-year global agreement with News Corp to pay for the publisher’s news content, and under heavy criticism Facebook stepped back from its drastic move to block news links from being shared or viewed in Australia.

Few details were released, including how much Facebook News Corp pays for content.

In a statement on Tuesday, News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said the agreement, which he called a “milestone”, “would have a material and significant impact on our Australian news business.”

News Corp leaders, Thomson added, “had a global debate” as the rise of the digital giants impoverished the news industry. With the deal, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and his team would have contributed to “creating a future for journalism that was under extreme stress”.

However, critics said the deal did little to guarantee the kind of public interest journalism touted by the Australian government when it proposed legislation that was passed last month.

“There are no guarantees that the public will benefit,” said Tanya Notley, a communications professor at Western Sydney University, who noted that the first major news companies to do business with Facebook were conservative and aligned with the current government were.

Others said it further emphasized the excessive power of social media companies to control news and public information. “They’re the keepers of the news for public consumption,” said Marc Cheong, a researcher on digital ethics at the University of Melbourne.

In a statement, Facebook said the agreements would help people gain access to news articles and breaking news videos from a network of national, urban, rural and suburban newsrooms.

“We are determined to bring Facebook news to Australia,” said Andrew Hunter, director of Facebook partnerships in Australia and New Zealand.

That was a distinctly different tone from what the tech giant struck in February when Facebook blocked messages in Australia.

At the time, William Easton, executive director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said of the draft Australian law: “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”

While the Australian government has pointed to the consolidation of digital advertising spending in companies like Google and Facebook, the tech giants say they are benefiting news companies by driving traffic to their websites.

Facebook has also announced tentative collective bargaining agreements with independent news organizations such as Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media. So far, however, only agreements with News Corp and Seven West Media, another large conservative news company, have been cemented.

Sky News Australia, also owned by Mr. Murdoch, extended an existing agreement with Facebook.