THE GEN X TREASURER AND THE MILLENNIAL BILLIONAIRE
How ‘Fruckerberg’ brokered a media code deal, ending a blackout of Australian news on Facebookacebook as the world watched with bated breath, writess ELLEN WHINNETT
IT was a very modern stoush keenly watched across the globe. A standoff between two of the world’s most powerful companies — Google and Facebook — and the government of Australia. And it ended in a very modern way, in a flurry of calls and text messages between a Generation X treasurer and a Millennial billionaire.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, 49, and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, 36, struck a deal on Tuesday to end the brawl which had seen millions of Australians barred from using Facebook to view or share Australian news.
The “Fruckerberg’’ talks had run for a week, with a video call, a dozen phone calls and multiple text messages, as the pair negotiated over the government’s news media bargaining code, which requires Big Tech firms to compensate Australian media companies for the news items they use on their platforms.
Unusually, the government was not legislating to get more tax for itself, but on behalf of Australia’s media companies, who had been unable to extract compensation from Big Tech firms using their content to encourage people on to their platforms.
Google and Facebook, so omnipresent in modern life their names have become verbs, were fiercely opposed to the code, not for what it would cost them in Australia but for the global precedent it could set. At the height of the brawl, Google threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia.
Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher intervened, with Frydenberg beginning direct communications with Sundar Pichai, the 48-year-old chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
The stakes were high — Alphabet is worth up to $1.8 trillion, a little more than the Australian economy.
The men talked business and cricket, then more business. Google dropped its threat and instead struck a deal to pay the media companies and co-operate with them in sharing news.
Facebook took the nuclear option, flicking a proverbial switch and shutting down the Facebook pages of hundreds of Australian news sites — along with potentially thousands of charities, health organisations and small businesses who became collateral damage. The global condemnation was swift.
Frydenberg was advised just after 5.30am on
February 18 that millions of Australians were waking up to find news on Facebook had gone dark, along with domestic violence charities, health services working on the COVID
19 pandemic, and even the weather bureau.
And so began an intense week of talks, which saw Frydenberg and Zuckerberg going backwards and forwards