© Reuters. This illustrative photo features a 3D printed Facebook logo in front of the displayed Australian flag
By Colin Packham
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ 🙂 is back at the negotiating table, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday after the tech giant blocked news on its website in the country this week.
Facebook’s abrupt decision to stop Australians from sharing news on the site and removing the pages of domestic and foreign news agencies also deleted several state government and emergency room accounts and caused widespread anger.
The company has “befriended us again for the time being,” said Morrison at a press conference in Sydney. “Which makes me happy that Facebook is back at the table.”
Facebook has not publicly announced any change to its rejection of a legislative proposal that would require social media platforms to pay for links to news content. Morrison was not asked about it.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Friday that he had spoken to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and that more talks are expected over the weekend. It was not clear whether these conversations took place.
A Facebook spokeswoman and representative from Frydenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The stalemate comes from Australia’s pledges to move forward with landmark legislation that could set a global precedent as countries like Canada show interest in similar action.
Australian law that would force Facebook and Alphabet (NASDAQ 🙂 Inc’s Google to enter into trade deals with Australian publishers or face compulsory arbitration has cleared the House of Commons and is expected to be passed by the Senate within the next week.
Simon Milner, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific political director for Asia-Pacific, was quoted on Saturday as telling the Sydney Morning Herald the company had three major objections to the legislation.
Facebook declines to be excluded from discrimination between various news outlets asking for money, from arbitration schemes that allow one independent entity to choose one payment over another, and from the obligation to enter into trade negotiations with Australian media companies, said Milner.
Facebook declined to make Milner available to speak to Reuters.
Australian legislation is largely observed overseas.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday his country will adopt the Australian approach as it draws up its own laws in the coming months.
Google, which originally threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia, announced numerous preventive licensing deals last week, including a global agreement with News Corp (NASDAQ :).
Facebook’s move had an immediate impact on traffic to new Australian websites, according to early data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat.
Total traffic to Australian news sites from various platforms decreased by around 13% within the country from the day before the ban.
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