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Facebook’s contempt for free press and disregard of legislative democracy should concern us all

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3 min read

With a united voice, we must support the Australian government in the face of this bullying from Facebook.

This week the attention of the tech policy world has been focused on the Australian House of Representatives, where Scott Morrison’s liberal-national government are in the final stages of passing the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill.

The new law has been designed to make tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, come to the negotiating table with news publishers to agree on compensation for news content appearing on social media. Google has proactively engaged with the country’s publishers, big and small, to reach a settlement – a significant achievement.

Similar to how YouTube pays artists when people listen to their tracks on its platform, publications will now receive payments when their articles are on the Google News Showcase. But in a move that led to worldwide condemnation, Facebook instead decided to withdraw entirely from the country’s news market, blocking journalism from being shared on their platform.

This time it’s not just a Select Committee Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg have snubbed – Facebook has unfriended an entire government.

It’s an outrageous decision. It demonstrates as much Facebook’s contempt for the freedom of the press and the future of public interest journalism, as it does their disregard for democratic legislatures, and their strategy to entrench their monopolies in the digital ads and attention economy.

Facebook has unfriended an entire government

Although this is happening on the other side of the world, to my colleagues in Westminster, I would say that whether you are a champion for competition and consumer choice, media freedoms and journalism, or democratic rights and parliamentary sovereignty, we should all be concerned. With a united voice, we must support the Australian government in the face of this bullying.

Although I suspect that the chips have not all fallen yet – the Bill is yet to pass in the Australian Senate – we in the Commons should learn from this process. Our Conservative government has rightly decided, based on reviews and studies, to launch a new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) within the CMA.

Its remit and powers will be set in law and based on those will identify specific online services that have ‘strategic market status’, with whom it will engage to offer practical guidance on how they can encourage competition. This will be ex-ante, pro-business regulation, with core objectives of encouraging innovation and promoting consumer-choice, as recommended by John Penrose in his report published this week.

When the time comes to pass this Bill in our own Parliament, I suspect certain voices disingenuously portraying the measures as anti-business will become louder. Like Australia, we should stick to our guns, and make sure that we stand up for the thriving British tech sector and its start-ups – as well as making sure that news publishers get a fair deal in the UK too.

Whilst it’s important to allow businesses reach agreements between themselves instead of the government stepping in, we also need to make sure that as an ultimate recourse we are able to sanction those who refuse to play ball. I look forward to the parliamentary debate.


Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe and founder of Infotagion.

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