Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia, according to Italian media reports.

The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.

The move has been backed by the European Commission, the reports say.

The news comes amid a row between EU officials and the company, which has provided only a fraction of the agreed supply to member states.

Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.

In January, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.

Source: BBC

Boeing to build pilotless fighter jets for U.S. and Australian Air Force

Boeing Plane-maker will use a pilotless, fighter-like jet developed in Australia as the basis for its U.S. Air Force Skyborg prototype, an executive at the plane maker said on Tuesday.

The “Loyal Wingman”, the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years, made its first flight on Saturday under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring it from a ground control station in South Australia.

Boeing’s Loyal Wingman is 38 feet long (11.6 metres), has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range and a nose that can be outfitted with various payloads. The plane can also carry weapons and act as a shield to help protect more expensive manned fighter jets.

The U.S. Air Force in December awarded multi-million dollar contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions to produce unmanned aerial prototypes that can team with crewed jets.

“The airpower teaming system is the basis for our Skyborg bid,” Boeing airpower teaming programme director Shane Arnott told reporters. “Obviously the U.S. market is a big market. That is a focus for us, achieving some sort of contract or programme of record in the United States.”

Defence contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximise their resources.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, is home to Boeing’s largest footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with relatively low traffic for flight testing.

The Australian government said on Tuesday it would invest a further A$115 million ($89 million) to acquire three more Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to develop tactics for using the jets with crewed planes, on top of its initial investment of A$40 million.

“Our aim with Boeing is to understand how we can get these aircraft to team with our existing aircraft to be a force multiplier in the future,” RAAF Air-Vice Marshal and head of air force capability Cath Roberts said.

Britain in January signed a GBP 30 million ($42 million) contract with the Belfast unit of Spirit AeroSystems for a similar type of pilotless aircraft to have a trial flight in the next three years.

During the test flight in Australia, the Loyal Wingman took off under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify its functionality and demonstrate the performance of the design.

Arnott said that three Loyal Wingman aircraft would be used for teaming flights this year and that the Australian government’s order would take the number available to six.

Boeing has said up to 16 Loyal Wingman jets could be teamed with a crewed aircraft for missions.

($1 = 1.2900 Australian dollars)

($1 = 0.7200 pounds)

Analysis: Central banks will happily ignore inflation-mongers

After a decade of underestimating inflation, central bankers in the United States, Europe and Japan have every reason keep money taps open and policymakers are even rewriting their own rules so they can let price growth overshoot their targets.

If anything, central banks are more likely to nudge up stimulus, particularly in the euro zone, keeping borrowing costs depressed and ignoring the inflation hawks at least until growth is back to pre-pandemic levels — and not just fleetingly.

The Reserve Bank of Australia already launched a surprise bond buying operation while the European Central Bank has repeatedly warned investors not to push yields too high, unless they want to fight its 1 trillion euro war chest.

The argument behind the inflation warning is that once economies reopen, massive government stimulus will combine with pent up consumer demand, unleashing spending-fuelled price pressures unseen for decades.

Although top economists are weighing in on both sides of the debate, the voices that really count all seem to be downplaying the threat.

“Inflation dynamics do change over time but they don’t change on a dime,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said.

“We don’t really see how a burst of fiscal support or spending … that doesn’t last for many years, would actually change those inflation dynamics.”

Even if inflation accelerates, a big if given that big central banks are all undershooting their 2% goal, tightening policy too hastily is seen as a bigger evil than moving too slowly.

First off, much of the inflation rise is temporary, driven by the rebound in oil, one-off stimulus measures and the base effect of tanking prices a year ago. So this is not the sort of sustained inflation policymakers are looking for.

Tighter policy could also choke off growth – a costly blunder with tens of millions still out of work after the biggest peacetime economic crisis in a century. In the worst case, higher borrowing costs would even raise debt sustainability concerns, particularly in heavily indebted southern Europe and across emerging markets.

And lastly, the Fed and European Central Bank both tightened policy too quickly in the past decade, forcing them into the type of credibility-damaging reversal they are now keen to avoid.

JOBS

The message from the Fed has been uniform and emphatic: its $120 billion monthly bond purchases will not change until the economy has more fully recovered, and any actual interest rate increase is even further into the future.

The Bank of Japan and the ECB are making similar noises: there will be no reversal of stimulus for a long time, possibly years.

Their central concern is employment.

There is still a 10-million-job hole in the U.S. economy while the euro zone unemployment rate is kept artificially low by government subsidies, pointing to huge spare capacity.

The Fed is already putting greater emphasis on job creation, particularly for low income families, and made an explicit commitment last year to let inflation overshoot its target after periods of excessively low price growth.

While the ECB and the Bank of Japan do not have employment mandates, policy framework reviews now underway could raise the emphasis on social considerations, particularly jobs.

The ECB is already debating the merits of letting inflation overshoot, a hint that overheating in the jobs market will not on its own trigger policy action.

“Labour markets tend to lag real activity by as much as six months, and we may yet see a wave of mergers, bankruptcies, and layoffs,” said Tamara Basic Vasiljev of Oxford Economics.

BIG MOVE?

While the rise in yields has caused a ruckus in markets, the moves are not excessive and may simply be a reversal of excessively low yields.

U.S. 10-year Treasury yields are up 56 basis points this year – to roughly their pre-pandemic record low – while Japanese yields are just 14 basis points higher. A 10-year German bond still yields a negative 25 basis points.

“We see a return of bond yields from ultra-low to still low levels as a consequence of, rather than an obstacle to, a strong economic rebound and solid gains in corporate earnings in most of the world,” Berenberg economist Holger Schmieding said.

Policymakers have also played down the moves.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic argued that the increase in yields was of no concern and did not warrant any Fed response.

ECB policymakers have meanwhile said some rise in yields was a reflection of better fundamentals and they would not target any yield level.

“I don’t think the BOJ is too worried about the recent rise in yields,” Tomoyuki Shimoda, a former BOJ executive and Hitotsubashi University professor said. “The BOJ has plenty of scope to ramp up buying as needed. It can stem unwelcome yield rises 100%.”

By: Balazs Koranyi, Howard Schneider, Leika Kihara

Neoen to build world’s biggest battery – Australian government funding

The energy storage project, dubbed the Victorian Big Battery, will be able to produce 450 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, more than double the capacity of Australia’s first utility scale battery, also run by Neoen.

Neoen has not disclosed the total cost of the project.

The government’s Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC) decided to provide debt for the project to help the country’s push toward cleaner, more reliable and cheaper electricity.

“This project is a world-class example of how utility scale batteries can help electricity networks support a higher penetration of renewable energy,” CEFC Chief Executive Ian Learmonth said in a statement.

As previously announced, Tesla Inc will be providing its Megapack technology for the project.

“With the help and hard work of our partners, Tesla and AusNet Services, we are on track to deliver this project before the next Australian summer,” Neoen Australia Managing Director Louis de Sambucy said in a statement.

Neoen secured financing for the project just three months after winning a Victorian state tender to supply up to 250 MW of capacity. The battery will help prevent blackouts in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, during summer months.

($1 = 1.2544 Australian dollars)

Australia passes law to make Google and Facebook pay for news

Australia has passed a world-first law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay for news content on their platforms.

The news code legislation had been fiercely opposed by the US tech giants. 

Last week Facebook blocked all news content to Australians over the row, but reversed its decision this week after negotiations with the government.

Following those talks, the law passed with new amendments which make it possible for Facebook and Google not to be subject to the code.

However, both companies have now committed to paying lucrative sums to some big Australian publishers outside of the code. These deals have been widely viewed as a compromise by the tech giants.

Australia’s law has been seen as a possible test case for similar regulation in other countries to get payment from digital platforms for news.

The amended legislation was passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday, after earlier going through the Senate.

Facebook and Google argued it “fundamentally” misunderstands how the internet works.

What does the law do?

The law incentivises tech giants and news organisations to negotiate payment deals between themselves. If such talks fail, digital platforms could be dragged into independent arbitrations.

The government argues this prescribes a “fairer” negotiation process between the parties, as it gives news organisations more leverage.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – a market regulator – says publishers have had little negotiating power until now because they are so reliant on tech monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Scott Morrison speaking in parliament
image captionPrime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was not intimidated by the tech firms’ threats

Any dispute over the value of news content would be settled by the arbitrator – something analysts say benefits the news groups.

The code also forces tech platforms to give notice to news publishers of changes to their algorithms.

However, the amended law now requires the government to consider a platform’s existing contributions to journalism – such as commercial deals with publishers – before applying the code to them. 

This means Facebook and Google could escape the arbitration process entirely.

The government also has to give the platform a month’s notice if it is considering applying the code to them.

What do Google and Facebook say?

The tech firms argue they already help news publishers by driving traffic back to news sites from their platforms.

Facebook and Google simply help people find news content in the first place, the platforms say.

Both tech companies lobbied the Australian government to amend the law, while also pursuing contracts with local news companies. 

Google had threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company recently agreed deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media worth an estimated A$60m ($47m; £34m) in total. 

It has also signed a deal for an undisclosed sum with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook promised to reverse its ban on news content, though Australian news pages remain unavailable.

It has since signed at least one deal – with Seven West Media – and is in talks other Australian news groups.

What happens now?

Facebook’s black-out of Australian news content in past week has triggered harsh criticism, both in Australia and globally. 

The company has admitted it overstepped in also removing over 100 non-news pages, including key health and emergency agencies.

But its powerful action has been interpreted as a warning shot to lawmakers elsewhere – such as in Canada, the UK and the EU – who have expressed interest in Australia’s law. 

As more news readership has shifted online, tech giants have faced calls internationally to pay more for news stories hosted on their platforms.

They have also faced increased scrutiny over their power, including calls for them to do more to combat misinformation and abuse.

Facebook reverses ban on news pages in Australia

Facebook has announced it will restore news content to its users in Australia.

The tech giant has blocked news to Australians on its platform since last Thursday amid a dispute over a proposed law which would force it and Google to pay news publishers for content.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end “in the coming days”, after the pair had talks.

Mr Frydenberg said amendments would be made to the law.

“Facebook has re-friended Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. 

The government has been debating the law – seen as a possible test case for regulation globally – in the Senate, after it was passed in the lower house last week.

Why did Facebook block news content?

Last Thursday, Australians woke up to find they could not access or share any news stories on their accounts. 

Facebook argued it had been forced to block Australian news in response to the proposed legislation.

The government’s news code aims to set up a “fairer” negotiation process between the tech giants and news companies over the value of news content.

But it has been strongly opposed by Facebook and Google – both argue the code misunderstands how the internet works. Facebook has also said it gets little commercial gain from news content.

But the Australian government says the code is needed to “level the playing field” for news publishers, which have seen profits slump in the internet age.

Why has it changed its mind?

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had been reassured by recent discussions with the government.

“Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to forced negotiation,” said Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships at Facebook.

“We have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers.”

Facebook already has its own “showcase” product through which it pays media organisations a fee to display their stories on its platform.

Google had also threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company has recently agreed deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

What does the government say now?

The government said it had encouraged Facebook to negotiate in good faith with local media companies, citing Google’s recent deals as an example.

Mr Frydenberg again criticised Facebook’s news ban last week, saying it was a “regrettable” action that came with no warning.

The blanket ban had also initially included more than 100 non-news sites including government health and emergency pages. Facebook later asserted that these had been “inadvertently impacted”.

The tech giant drew a wide backlash from Australian users.

Facebook’s Australia news blackout: a shock four years in the making

(Reuters) – Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was as shocked as anyone when he learned that Facebook Inc had blocked news content from its website in his country at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.

He had been in direct contact with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and, he thought, was making progress toward an accommodation over proposed rules that would force the tech titan to pay publishers to link to their news.

Yet this was a shock four years in the making – a potential global turning point for regulation of big social media companies that began with Australia’s complex, provincial politics in 2017.

The fight between the world’s largest social media company and the 13th-largest economy is the result of a bill, scheduled for debate next week in Australia’s Senate, that was foisted on Frydenberg and his boss at the time.

Then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wanted to relax media merger-and-acquisition laws to let Australian news outlets like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp scale up and survive a revenue crash as advertisers took their business to internet heavyweights like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Turnbull’s conservative government needed support from outspoken independent Nick Xenophon, who held the balance of power in the Senate. He made the government promise an inquiry into “internet giants such as Google and Facebook”.

This week’s blowup “is something I’d be very happy to take responsibility for,” said Xenophon, now a private sector lawyer.

“If there is a viable rival to Facebook in years to come, its genesis will be the event that occurred in Australia on the 18th of February,” he told Reuters. “Facebook has exposed the level of its market power. It’s behaving like a monopoly.”

Turnbull’s treasurer, Scott Morrison, honoured the Xenophon deal by tasking the antitrust regulator with examining Google and Facebook to “fully understand their influence in Australia”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) inquiry ground on, Morrison became prime minister and Frydenberg became his treasurer. Meanwhile, Facebook’s image in Australia as a harmless online gathering spot was marred by revelations it sold third-party marketers the personal data of millions of people to target in the 2016 U.S. election.

CONCILIATION VS BOMBSHELL

When the ACCC delivered its report in mid-2019, Frydenberg called out Facebook’s $5 billion fine for the election-related privacy breaches, saying it and Google “need to be held to account and their activities need to be more transparent”.

He left it to Australian media and Big Tech to thrash out a framework to negotiate the price of links that draw clicks – and advertising dollars – to their platforms. When that failed the ACCC stepped in, saying it would appoint an arbitrator to set fees in the event of stalemate, a model suggested by News Corp.

The tech titans responded last September with threats to cancel their services in the country if the bargaining code took effect. They repeated the threats in January.

With parliamentary votes looming, Prime Minister Morrison revealed that Microsoft Corp CEO Satya Nadella had offered its search engine Bing if Google’s disappeared. Frydenberg said he was talking with Zuckerberg.

As the bill moved through and passed the lower house, Google struck deals with free-to-air network Seven West Media Ltd and rival Nine Entertainment Co Holdings, which also owns the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers.

“None of these deals would be happening if we didn’t have the legislation before the parliament,” Frydenberg said on Wednesday. Then, in the early hours of Thursday morning Canberra time, News Corp announced a global deal with Google.

News Corp and Seven thanked Morrison, Frydenberg and ACCC commissioner Rod Sims for forcing the issue. Murdoch’s company said Xenophon was “instrumental in having Australia adopt a world first, highly innovative policy approach”.

As Google turned conciliatory and the bill looked set to become law next week, it was Facebook’s turn.

Frydenberg was dressed for tennis on Thursday morning when he learned Facebook had taken a dramatically different approach – pulling the plug on Australia’s news sites and, inadvertently, on many government disaster-information pages and other public-service outlets.

Facebook said on Thursday that because the bill “does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”

Frydenberg cancelled his tennis game and arranged another call with Zuckerberg, and another the next day.

“We certainly weren’t given any notice by Facebook,” the treasurer told reporters. But he said his half-hour call was “constructive”.

“We’ll hear from them in the coming days and we’ll see if we can find a pathway forward.”

Facebook Australia: Tech giant faces growing criticism over news ban

Facebook is facing mounting criticism after it blocked news content in Australia amid a dispute with the government over a planned law.

The law will force tech giants to pay for news content on their platforms.

Facebook says the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” its relationship with publishers.

But politicians, publishers and rights groups in several countries have accused it of bullying, and raised concerns over access to information.

Under Facebook’s new rules, Australian users are blocked from viewing and sharing local and international news, while local publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any links on their pages. 

Several government health and emergency pages were also blocked, but Facebook later said this was a mistake and many of these pages are now back online.

Who has criticised the move?

In a statement posted on Facebook, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the social media company’s actions to “unfriend Australia” were “as arrogant as they were disappointing”.

He added that he was in “regular contact with the leaders of other nations” over the issue and would not be “intimidated”.

Mr Morrison later raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he sought to gain international support, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Other Australian officials have also criticised the move. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ban on news information had a “huge community impact”. About 17 million Australians visit the social media site every month. It is the most important social platform for news in the country. 

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan accused Facebook of “behaving like a North Korean dictator”.

Others suggested that a news vacuum could be filled by misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, 16 February 2021.
image captionScott Morrison issued a response on Facebook

Human Rights Watch’s Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information, calling it a “dangerous turn of events”.

A local campaigner with rights group Amnesty International said it was “extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on”.

The move also faced criticism outside Australia.

Julian Knight, the head of the British parliamentary committee overseeing the media industry, called Facebook’s action “bullying”.

“I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible – at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine,” he told the BBC. 

“This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that ‘if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility’.”

Global publishers also reacted, with the company behind the Guardian newspaper saying it was “deeply concerned”.

The head of Germany’s BDZV news publishers’ association said it was “high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms”.

Many Australian users are also angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

“It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world,” Peter Firth, in Sydney, told the BBC. 

Presentational grey line

Will fake news thrive?

Analysis by Reality Check

Facebook’s ban on news sites on its Australian-facing site could well lead to greater prominence for unverified and untrusted information, helping disinformation to spread further. 

First Draft, a site which investigates the spread of false and misleading posts online, warned the restrictions would “open up a vacuum that could be filled in part by mis and disinformation”.

Facebook says it will continue to remove harmful misinformation, connect users with reliable health advice and work with third-party fact checkers.

One of the topics for which a great deal of unreliable information is shared online is that of Covid-19 vaccines.

So we looked at search results for the word “vaccine” over the past 12 hours on Facebook pages primarily based in Australia and found prominent results for sites casting doubt on the coronavirus pandemic. 

This search also brings up reliable information sources, and further analysis will be needed over the next few days to see whether this anecdotal evidence is backed up by longer term data.

Presentational grey line

So why is Facebook doing this?

Australian authorities say they drew up the laws to “level the playing field” on profits between the tech giants and struggling publishers. Of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media these days, A$81 goes to Google and Facebook.

But Facebook’s local managing director William Easton says the law seeks to “penalise” the company “for content it didn’t take or ask for”.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. 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 wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

Facebook said it helped Australian publishers earn about A$407m last year through referrals, while “the platform gain from news is minimal”.

What will happen with the law?

Australia’s conservative government is standing by the law – which passed the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. It has broad cross-party support and the Senate is likely to pass it next week.

“We will legislate this code. We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content,” said Mr Frydenberg.

Facebook Australia row: How Facebook became so powerful in news

On Thursday, millions of Australians woke up to find a drastically different version of Facebook – one devoid of any news. 

Overnight, Facebook banned Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on the platform – in response to a proposed law that would make tech giants pay for such content. 

Facebook has, in just a matter of years, established itself as the place where many get their news. And the platform’s outsized influence on how some newsrooms make editorial and hiring decisions has led to it being described as “the absent editor in the room”.

So how exactly did it cement its place one of the world’s biggest sources of news?

Facebook becomes top Australian news source

There’s no doubt that Facebook has become one of the most – if not the most – important social network for many news consumers.

According to a Reuters report, up to 40% of Australians used Facebook for news between 2018 and 2020 – making it the country’s most popular social media and messaging platform for news.

But there has been much concern about the dominance of these tech firms in the media landscape.

In 2018, an Australian market regulator launched an inquiry into the impact of Google and Facebook on competition in media and advertising.

The inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that big tech giants collected the lion’s share of revenue and profits in the media space. Of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media these days, A$81 goes to Google and Facebook. 

In light of this imbalance between tech firms and the media, the commission said a code of conduct should be introduced to level the playing field. 

The draft code calls on tech companies to pay for content, though it does not say how much. It would also enable news companies to negotiate as a bloc with tech firms over how content appears in news feeds and search results.

The government argues that tech giants should pay newsrooms a “fair” amount for their journalism.

It’s justified this market intervention by arguing that Australia’s embattled news industry is struggling, and a strong media is vital to the public interest and democracy. 

But Facebook has said it rejects any law requiring it to pay, and the argument behind it.

Meanwhile Google, despite resisting the law, has nonetheless agreed to multimillion-dollar contracts with three major Australian news outlets. 

A symbiotic relationship?

It’s clear that there is a huge reliance on Facebook for news – but its relationship with news publishers goes both ways.

Facebook claims that the media benefit more from this relationship than they do.

“Publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue,” said William Easton, the company’s local managing director. 

He says Facebook generated five billion referrals to Australian news sites, worth about A$400m. 

But news is one of the top reasons why people use social media, according to the Reuters report, and Facebook is the biggest social platform for it. 

Newsrooms have said they can’t ignore that audience. Meanwhile journalists say that Facebook has actively encouraged news sites to hold workshops for reporters and editors on how to use its platform better. 

However it soon became clear there was an issue of transparency. Facebook constantly made changes to its software without notice to news publishers.

It made repeated changes to its News Feed algorithm – making some posts less visible to readers; or “throttling” the news feed, as one editor described it. 

It was the absent editor in the room who could instantly dictate editorial changes. 

‘The goal posts kept shifting’

“The algorithmic changes were made with no pre-warning, no insights and no reasoning… [it] was incredibly frustrating,” Isabelle Oderberg, a former social media editor for News Corp Australia, told BBC News. 

“It affected our traffic and it was just mostly really upsetting. The social media community would [then have to] wait for Facebook to [explain] the change, though they didn’t always explain it. It’s always been clear what the power balance was.” 

The BBC spoke with other three reporters from different local media organisations, who asked to remain anonymous.

One radio journalist at a large Australian outlet told the BBC that, to them, it felt like the “goal posts kept shifting” – and priorities would change every year or two years to suit what would work best for Facebook. 

“Overall, a massive issue lies in the extent to which media organisations entangled themselves willingly with the Facebook algorithm and began to measure their success via Facebook,” they said. 

The three reporters all noted the shift in newsrooms when Facebook decided to prioritise video – making news videos more prominent to Facebook users in the feed.

It resulted in dozens of video producers being hired, or existing journalists getting rushed skills training.

That was on top of the existing demand for digital producers who could write “clicky” headlines for online stories and social posts.

“We were told audio stories wouldn’t work [on social] so you needed to write up the content in a digital article for it to be shared, but then suddenly it needed to be a video,” said the radio journalist.

“And it felt sometimes like it didn’t matter – the quality or the nature of what you were getting at, [or whether it] was a good story – if it wasn’t suited to the algorithm,” they added.

‘No longer king of the hill’

Concerns for the future of the industry have also been expressed by experts outside the newsroom.

Erasmus Nielsen, director of Oxford University’s Reuters Institute, told the BBC that distinctions between credible reporting and rumour are being eroded by Facebook’s “feed” format.

But there are benefits too.

Mr Nielsen says Facebook has provided a platform for more people to come into contact with news, even if they aren’t seeking it out.

It has also created a news environment which is more representative of communities that have been “roundly and routinely ignored by established media,” says Mr Nielsen.

A study by the institute has found that around half of internet users do not actively seek out news content on a daily basis – something the media industry has not yet come to terms with, Mr Nielsen argues.

The challenge, then, is how to engage, inform and create value for consumers.

“What does it mean when you’re no longer king of the hill with a structured, privileged access to people’s attention, but actually have to fight for it in the trenches with lots of other things that people apparently find more compelling and useful than what they see in journalism?”

Facebook ‘bully’ move in Australia shows need for regulation – UK media trade body says

LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook’s move to block all media content in Australia shows why countries around the world need robust regulation to stop tech giants behaving like a “school yard bully”, the head of the UK’s news media trade group said.

News Media Association chairman Henry Faure Walker said Facebook’s ban during a global pandemic was “a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.”

“Facebook’s actions in Australia demonstrate precisely why we need jurisdictions across the globe, including the UK, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers.”

The social media giant shocked Australia on Thursday when it blocked all media content from its platform in a stunning escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.

The move came after the government of Scott Morrison drafted a law to require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.

The legislation, which is expected to be passed by the Australian parliament within days, prompted Google to seal preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.

Facebook said the law “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news content.

Facebook argues that the British media market is different, after it launched Facebook News through partnerships with publishers such as the Daily Mail group, Financial Times, Guardian and Telegraph.