ABC boss: What’s the benefit of Facebook?

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 26 June 2019

Australian media executives have expressed frustration with the recent court ruling on Facebook comments, saying it dumps responsibility on them when it should be on big tech companies.

Earlier this week the NSW Supreme Court found three media companies -- Nine, Australian News Channel, publisher of Sky News, and News Corp’s Nationwide News -- liable for comments published underneath stories on their Facebook pages. The finding opens the publishers to defamation cases.

Nine CEO Hugh Marks says the increase in costly defamation cases based on Facebook posts and Google reviews shows that the law has failed to keep up with technology.

While Facebook doesn’t allow pages to pre-vet comments, the judge ruled publishers can effectively set up a moderating tool by using comment filters which include common words such as pronouns and articles.

“Facebook is the one that facilitates comments on your stories and in this case we were held responsible for comments made on our stories,” Marks told the National Press today.

“If it were us, we would turn off comments on the right story. We just wouldn't facilitate it because we would know the risk is there. That’s what responsible publishers do.

“In this case, we’ve been held liable for comments of a third party facilitated by another organisation. If you look at the UK laws, you’re only responsible for comments you make. It already exists in other societies, we should have the same principles here.”

Publishers have long complained about being battered by tech giants, and now ABC MD David Anderson says the Facebook comments ruling could push them over the line.

“You can’t control the algorithm and how your stories are surfacing, you can’t control the comments, and now you can’t control how that media is being used,” Anderson says. “It lets you pause and think about what's the benefit of being on Facebook.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been looking at the impact of big tech on Australian journalism in its Digital Platforms inquiry, which is due to be handed to the government on Sunday, 30 June.

News Corp Australia executive chair Michael Miller says a key priority for the ACCC should be to compel platforms to pay for news content.

“Australian companies are investing a lot in journalism, in generating content and driving an audience. To have a company be able to pick that up and monetise it without any care of the country, or company it comes from is the first step we ask the ACCC to look at,” Miller says.

Marks, Anderson and Miller were speaking at the National Press Club this afternoon to present a united front against the recent raids on the media by the Australian Federal Police.

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