Facebook partners with the Walkley Foundation as ACCC inquiry rolls on

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 28 February 2019

Update: ThinkTV did not enter a submission to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry. 

Facebook has detailed how it will provide $5 million to support local journalism as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) continues to look into its impact on the news ecosystem.

The funding is part of the $300 million the social media giant announced last month and includes a partnership with The Walkley Foundation to bring the Facebook Journalism Project News Accelerator to Australia.

It’s the first time the program has been set up outside of the US since a pilot version launched last year and aims to help news organisations connect with and monetise their audiences both on and off Facebook.

The news comes as Facebook and Google face ongoing criticism from traditional media owners over their role in weakening the news business model in Australia.

In what ACCC chair Rod Sims called their "stunning rise", the digital giants have been taking money away from print, radio and TV news, as advertisers follow audiences to digital.

However, Facebook news partnerships AUNZ Andrew Hunter told AdNews this funding is part of the company’s "track record" of investing in news product in Australia and brushed aside the idea such initiatives was an attempt to ward off regulation.

“This program is really an extension of our work during the past few years in Australia,” Hunter says.

“We have worked very hard to bring a series of innovative projects to Australia during the past 18 months and so this is really just the next step in our investment in innovation in what is a really important market to Facebook.”

Facebook has previously introduced Facebook Watch, subscriptions, Today In and the breaking news pilots to Australia, which it claimed delivered a boost to publisher’s engagement metrics.

Despite these investments, media organisations remain disgruntled with the social giant, with Free TV calling for stricter regulations in their submissions to the ACCC inquiry to even the playing field.

News Corp has also been outspoken in its criticism, saying in its submission to the inquiry last year that a "number of digital platforms possess substantial market power and are engaging in anti-competitive practices that prevent publishes from competing on the merits".

Also for the first time outside of the US, the $5 million funding includes seed funding for video production in order for news partners to create new shows for Facebook.

Speaking about the Accelerator programs in the US, Hunter said while it’s still early days it’s seeing positive signs.

“I think there are some intangible results that we've got out of it in terms of a lot of very, very positive feedback from the partners who have been involved,” Hunter said.

“There has been a real sense of an actual collaboration between the news partners, particularly the local news partners who have been exploring subscriptions projects through the Accelerator.”

Facebook also revealed it’s partnering with the newly formed Alliance for Journalists' Freedom, which is headed up by professor and Australian journalist Peter Greste. The organisation works to promotes media freedom in the Asia Pacific region and the right of journalists to report news safely.

Facebook is expected to make its submission to the inquiry over the coming weeks, with the ACCC to publish its final report in June.

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