Local and Independent News Association executive director Claire Stuchbery is calling for government support for small publishers should Meta reinstate a ban on news (Photo: LINA)

April 3, 2024

by Anne Miller

Smaller Australian publishers will be disproportionately affected if Meta – the publishers of Facebook and Instagram – remove or block news content on its platforms from this month.

Meta informed publishers recently that it would “deprecate” news on the platforms from early April, leading to fears that news pages on Facebook – such as southburnett.com.au – could again be blacked out, something which occurred for almost a week in February 2021.

The snap blackout occurred in reaction to the Federal Government’s introduction of a news media bargaining code.

Meta lifted the ban after it agreed to enter into funding deals with major publishers, however these contracts expire this year and Meta has stated they will not be renewed.

In response, the Federal Government has begun a process which could designate Meta under the code.

This would require the US tech giant to negotiate with publishers for payment for content shared on its platform or face massive fines.

However, some media analysts have suggested that “designation” could simply further encourage Meta to remove news from its platforms.

The Local and Independent News Association (LINA), an industry association which represents independent publishers, said most smaller publishers were excluded from receiving funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Publishers such as South Burnett Online did not benefit from the commercial deals struck with Meta because of the high threshold set for the revenue test, despite being blacked out by the Meta ban.

LINA has made a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission outlining the value of Facebook and Instagram to local and independent digital publishers, and the likely impact should news content be removed from these platforms.

Many small publishers rely on website display advertising for their greatest income, LINA said.

They would be affected by the loss of website traffic driven by social media if Meta removed news content.

LINA executive director Claire Stuchbery said government support would be needed to counter this financial loss and support newsrooms to strengthen alternative income sources and transition to new ones.

“Local newsrooms have everything to lose but very little to gain from designation,” Ms Stuchbery said.

“These local and independent media publishers play a critical role within their communities, combatting misinformation and disinformation, supporting community health and safety (including emergency preparedness and resilience), promoting workforce development and fostering social cohesion and civic engagement.

“They are also key to platforming diverse voices and experiences, as these tend to be the most affected by the closure of larger newsrooms and the rising syndication of content.”

Ms Stuchbery said the removal of news content from Meta platforms would particularly impact the 20 per cent of hyperlocal newsrooms launched within the past four years.

“Government has a responsibility to help guarantee public access to healthy and diverse information and communications systems, and financial support should be provided to newsrooms should Meta be designated,” she said.

“This support is key not just to the survival of smaller newsrooms, but to the overall health and functioning of Australian democracy.”

[Disclosure: South Burnett Online is a foundation member of LINA]

FLASHBACK: The Facebook header image we published when South Burnett Online was blacked out on Facebook in 2021


2 Responses to "Support Urged For Small Publishers"

  1. While I support LINA’s aim of trying to preserve rural and small urban newsrooms from the damage that could be caused by Meta’s news ban, I don’t think asking Australians to pick up the tab is the answer.

    A far better approach would be for the government to tell Meta that if it doesn’t share its profits with Australian news media for using their content, Australia will turn Meta off and set up our own alternative social media.

    Let’s be honest. Facebook has contributed nothing positive to the world and we’d all be much better off as a society if it didn’t exist.

    But it does exist and there’s only one thing Meta really wants, and that’s the billions of revenue it pulls out of Australia every year (we’re the 13th largest economy in the world after all).

    If Australia banned Meta and set up our its own publicly owned Facebook and Instagram clones, maybe other countries would do the same.

    The world would be a far, far better place for everyone (except this US multinational, of course).

  2. What the big media orgs have convinced the ACCC and the former Liberal government to do in passing the News Media Bargaining Code is plain anti-competitive extortion for the simple act of using a hyperlink on their website – something no one in the history of the Internet has ever had to do.

    Many small publishers are perfectly happy posting their content to Meta products and getting in return the benefit of free traffic referrals from Meta products. Some even rely entirely on the tools and services Meta provides to publish their content – they don’t even run their own website.

    The big media orgs know that they if they were to pull their content from Meta products (as they should do if they aren’t happy with the deal they are getting), not only would the free referrals dry up, but it would leave a hole in the market for their competitors to fill.

    So the big media orgs convinced the government to pass an anti-competitive law that states that unless Meta pays them, they have to remove ALL news content from their platforms – even those small publishers who wouldn’t have even been paid anyway.

    The previous commenter says that Meta should “share its profits with Australian news media for using their content”. Why should they? They’ve proven in Canada that they derive no profits from the use of that content, as six months after being forced to implement a “news ban” their platform usage and profits are growing.

    And the idea of “banning Meta products and setting up our own alternative social media”? What a ridiculous proposition. Good luck getting a single person to sign up to AustraliaBook when it launches in 2035.

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