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‘Squashed’: Smaller publishers fear fatal consequences from Facebook’s news ban

Susannah George, founder of lifestyle website The Urban List, said the government’s media code could have fatal consequences for independent digital websites.

“Facebook’s decision to restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing not just hard news, but any content originating from a publisher, will have a significant and detrimental impact far beyond the media landscape, and our team is now hard at work to ensure we find new ways to fuel and support our cities’ businesses and culture.

“Despite the best of intent, the news media bargaining code has squashed the upward momentum of digital-first publishing platforms and is a real blow to the diversity and vibrancy of the Australian media landscape,” she said.

Satirical news website The Betoota Advocate, which is also a victim to the decision, blamed Facebook’s reaction on the federal government.

“The Betoota Advocate has survived drought, flood, fires and the 1991 Wool Crash,” a statement on its Instagram said. “We will survive this break down in negotiations between our government and the tech platforms as well. As for the politicians that caused this, we hope Rupert [Murdoch]’s 30 pieces of silver was worth it.”

Ms George was among a group of publishers to raise concerns about Facebook’s threat last September. They wrote a letter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in September urging it to break an impasse with the tech giants. They were assured at the time that they would be looked after if the code was legislated but have been left scrambling after their content was pulled without notice on Thursday morning.

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Youth website Junkee Media, which signed a commercial agreement with Google yesterday, said the removal of content would have a “significant detrimental impact” on media diversity.

“We urge the federal government and Facebook to work constructively to find a solution to this issue that is workable for all parties,” Junkee Media’s editorial director Rob Stott said.

Scott Purcell, founder of men’s lifestyle website Man of Many said he understood the decision but that it would be detrimental for new and existing small independent media companies.

“While we don’t agree with Facebook’s decision to ban all news content on its platform in Australia, we do understand the rationale behind it as we believe the proposed code was unworkable in its current form, particularly for publishers to be paid for content that they voluntarily share to such platforms,” Mr Purcell said. “The decision is unlikely to impact upon Man of Many in any significant way but it will have a significant impact on many other smaller independent publishers who have been courted by Facebook to grow their audiences on the platform and consequently become very reliant on it to generate traffic.“

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Facebook Australia’s managing director William Easton said the decision had been made because the code misunderstood the relationship between the tech giant and news outlets.

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” Mr Easton said in the company’s blog.

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