UK Considering ‘Australia-Style’ Legislation to Force Facebook to Pay for News Content

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The United Kingdom may follow the lead of Australia and Canada in forcing Facebook to pay news publishers for hosting their content, government officials have suggested.

A Downing Street spokesman said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “obviously concerned” about Facebook’s decision to censor news content on its platform in Australia, and may introduce legislation to take on Big Tech platforms “later this year”.

“We’re obviously concerned about access to news being restricted in Australia. As we always have done, we will be robust in defending free speech and journalism. We’re setting up a unit to promote competition in digital markets and ensure major tech companies cannot exploit dominant market positions,” the spokesman told The Times.

In an interview with Times Radio, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, was looking “very closely” at crafting legislation to regulate Silicon Valley companies in the UK.

“I have very strong views on this,” Hancock said, adding: “All I can say is that I’m a great admirer of Australia and Canada… I think this is a very important matter and I’ve got no doubt the culture secretary will be looking at it very closely.”

Last year, Australia became the first country in the world to announce its intentions to force companies like Facebook and Google to pay news publishers royalties for hosting content on their websites.

In response to the proposed legislation, Facebook announced that with a “heavy heart” it would be censoring Australian users from viewing or sharing news articles within the country and blocking Australian publishers from posting content on the site.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”

Facebook backed down from its position on Tuesday, announcing that it would be lifting the censorship regime in Australia in “the coming days”, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

Canada said last week that it would be crafting similar legislation to that in Australia and the European Union has proposed a so-called “link tax” for Silicon Valley giants.

A British government source told The Times that ministers are considering “pro-competition reforms,” saying: “We are certainly not ruling out Australian-style legislation to fix the imbalance in the relationship between big tech companies and news organisations. However, clearly, there is a process that needs to be gone through and that is why we are consulting.”

Facebook has argued that the lack of regulation in the UK allows it to strike individual deals with publishers, with a spokesman pointing to the deals struck in January with mainstream media outlets such as The Guardian, Financial Times, the Daily Mail, amongst others, which will see Facebook pay “tens of millions” to host content on its Facebook News service.

Facebook said during its ban of news in Australia that it will only make such investments in countries that have the “right rules” in place, in a potential shot across the bow to any country attempting to follow Australia’s lead and take on Big Tech.

In the UK, Google and Facebook account for some 80 per cent of all digital advertising as of 2019, with Facebook raking in £1.65 billion in revenues in Britain, upon which they paid £28.5 million in taxes.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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