By Will Easton, managing director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand
Journalism plays an important role in democratic society by providing people with trusted and credible information to help them understand the world and take action. Nowhere has this been more clear than in Australia, where coverage of the bushfire crisis last summer, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, has kept communities informed and helped save lives.
It’s because of news’ critical importance to society that we strongly support new rules and regulation that protect the interests of Australians, reward innovation for independent, regional and large news organisations, and provide certainty for multi-million dollar news investment from the technology sector.
Publishers have told us how important and helpful Facebook’s investments in news have been to date, so we are actively exploring how we can increase them significantly over the long term. We hope to increase our investment in new and innovative news products and tools for Australia, including the expansion of Facebook News, but we can only do so if the right rules and regulatory frameworks are in place.
Launched late last year in the US, Facebook News is a dedicated place on Facebook for journalism that marks a new commitment to working with publishers affected by shifts in technology and consumer behaviour. Designed with feedback from international journalists, news executives and people on Facebook, we built a personalised, news-only destination that provides people with accurate, well-sourced information.
We’ve received strong feedback and promising initial results in the US that demonstrate the value of these experiences for the industry. As we look at suitable countries for additional launches, Australia is a strong contender given the strength and importance of the news market here. We recognise increasing our content investment with an array of partners is necessary to create innovative news products and ensure a positive user experience for Australians with more articles and videos from publishers they trust.
Consumer behaviour and the amount of news being produced varies by country, so we won’t simply copy and paste experiences developed for US publishers across the world. Instead, we want to support product and business solutions that meet the needs of the local industry, especially small and regional publishers, while protecting the interests of Australians that use Facebook every day. Delivering customised solutions for diverse news environments takes time — just as the news industry continues to innovate their business model, we too are working to evolve and expand our approach.
There are investments we want to continue making in Australia beyond Facebook News as well. To date, we have made multi-year, multi-million dollar investments in Australian journalism, signing content deals to help publishers experiment with video. We have also funded programs that help publishers build new revenue streams, including subscriptions.
Recognising the impact of the COVID-19 global health pandemic on the news and advertising industries, we launched a $2 million COVID-19 relief fund, which included support for Walkley Foundation to reach regional newsrooms affected by the pandemic. And we’ve just announced grants from this COVID19 relief fund for publishers across regional Australia, from Gippsland in Victoria, Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to the Barkly region in the Northern Territory.
We will continue to engage with the Australian Government on a fair approach that provides us with confidence to launch these new experiences and further our investments in Australia. We hope the new regulatory framework being proposed by the ACCC won’t discourage us from making long-term investments, but will instead help the industry build new, sustainable revenue opportunities within an ever-evolving digital information ecosystem. Only with effective, transparent and fair rules in place, will Australia continue to signal that it welcomes industry investments towards sustainable and important journalism.
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