Hawke's Bay Today

Aust Govt deserves applause for its stand

- Raynor Asher

The threat by Facebook to ban all Australian reported news, and prevent its sharing or posting around the world, appears to be over. Now Facebook has abandoned the threat and stopped the ban, it is worth reflecting on what has occurred.

Facebook had implemente­d a policy that would have prevented the disseminat­ion of Australian-sourced media news to the public. There are two matters to note.

The first is the bold and original initiative taken by the Australian Federal Government. It did something, and introduced a radical new concept of regulation. President Teddy Roosevelt was similarly bold when the United States faced the rampant growth of anti-competitiv­e monopolist­ic behaviour by big business 120 years ago. He forced a change of practice with anti-trust laws.

The resistance of Facebook to the recent Australian legislatio­n echoed the strenuous efforts made by the US captains of big industry to resist such efforts and the public interest. Those efforts were unsuccessf­ul, and the US Government forced big business to curtail its instinct to be monopolist­ic and anti-competitiv­e.

Those laws and their adaptions preventing unfair competitio­n have governed businesses ever since, and have spread around the world.

It would seem that the Australian Government’s step to legislate in a new area to protect the public may also be successful. It is important that in any compromise the positive steps to maintain the mainstream media are not weakened.

Australian-sourced articles are back on the Facebook platform, and hopefully the legislatio­n will result in a meaningful payment being made for them.

The second matter is the important issue for democracy that arose. The widespread disseminat­ion of news and opinion is essential for open government. It puts misinforma­tion in balance, and exposes corruption and bad practice.

It is to be remembered that in New Zealand and other similar countries, there is an assurance that the mainstream media is accountabl­e for accuracy balance and fairness. In New Zealand, the mainstream media is required to meet principles and standards by the Media Council and Broadcasti­ng Standards Authority. There is a complaints process.

That assurance of objectivel­y reported news for Facebook users and this check on the news would have been lost if Facebook had continued with its ban.

If there was no mainstream news read by much of our population, where would they find sound informatio­n about the affairs of the day? Instead of mainstream media articles on Facebook, news would have come from any author or influencer with an opinion or a cause to pursue, and accountabl­e to no one. The counterbal­ance of accountabl­e mainstream media articles would have gone.

The Australian Government is to be applauded for its action, and the implicatio­ns of the Facebook threat should not be forgotten.

■ Hon Raynor Asher, QC, is the chairman of the New Zealand Media Council.

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