By PETER HACKNEY
Despite being a small, local publication and a newcomer to the media landscape, the Sydney Sentinel has not avoided the wrath of Facebook, which today blocked a raft of Australian media outlets as part of the US social media giant’s protest at the federal government’s Media Bargaining law.
The move by Facebook against the draft law – which would force tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate payment with news providers to feature their content – means visitors to the Sentinel’s Facebook page can no longer see any posts on our page, nor share our content.
Only a few basic details can be viewed on the page, while the publication’s cover photo has been replaced by a large grey void.
It is the same story across the Australian media landscape, with the Facebook pages of newspapers, magazines and journals, as well as TV and radio stations, all receiving the same treatment.
In a move that has provoked widespread outrage, Facebook’s ban has also encompassed the Facebook accounts of many government departments, community groups and health services, including organisations such as the Bureau of Meteorology, 1800RESPECT and Fire and Rescue NSW.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt called for the bans be removed straight away.
“I am deeply and profoundly concerned that Facebook would block access to health, Covid or vaccine related vital public information. This must be addressed immediately,” he said.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Omar Khorshid said Facebook’s decision was a huge problem – coming, as it does, just days before the start of the national Covid-19 vaccination program.
“We are extremely concerned about Facebook using its market power to bully the Australian government, and in doing so putting the health of Australians at risk,” Dr Khorshid said.
The Federal Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, said Facebook’s decision to stop Australian publishers and users from sharing or viewing news content damaged the US tech giant’s credibility.
“Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing,” Mr Fletcher told the ABC.
“They’re effectively saying, on our platform there will not be any information from organisations which employ paid journalists, which have fact checking processes, editorial policies.
“They’re effectively saying any information that is available on our site does not come from these reliable sources.”
Today’s move by Facebook comes as a surprise, particularly after Google capitulated to the federal government, acquiescing to demands to pay providers for their news content.
Google has so far agreed to pay News Corp Australia for content from news sites across its media empire, and is currently in negotiations with other providers to do so.
It is unclear at this stage what arrangements Google will make for small independent media operators such as the Sentinel.