Facebook under fire for interfering with freedom of the press

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 3 November 2016

The Australian Press Council has backed calls from the Association of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE) denouncing Facebook’s arbitrary censorship of journalistic content. It is calling on Facebook to respect freedom of the press.

The AIPCE has condemned Facebook for interfering in press freedom and censoring text and images, and for claiming it is not a publisher. It also called Facebook's approach to moderating news and applying algorithm’s to “crucial editorial decisions” “clumsy and ineffective”.

Facebook's impact on the media is under fire from both the editorial and the commercial side with publishers now increasingly reliant on the platform for delivering audiences. With some publishers reporting up to 80% of traffic coming through Facebook, the commercial, ad-funded models they are built on are being undermined.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for content creators to monetise their content and fund its creation, while Facebook continues to attract healthy ad revenue based on the audiences it has, which are consuming content produced by publishers.

Facebook today reported a 59% year on year rise in ad revenue in Q3, reaching more than US$6bn, a figure that will make many publishers and content creators wince.

On the journalistic ethics side of the debate, AIPCE, of which Australian Press Council is an associate member, delivered a letter to Facebook’s director of media partnerships on 1 November in Oslo, outlining its concerns over Facebook’s growing power “to control the flow of information and block access to important news content”.

Facebook censored the iconic 1960s picture of a young Vietnamese girl, suffering burns to much of her body, running from her napalmed village, which accompanied an article published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in September.

The AIPCE's letter stated that Facebook had violated freedom of the press by censoring journalistic content “that is already subject to a system of press ethics”, and called on Facebook to “commit itself to respecting the freedom of the press and ensure and formally guarantee that this will not happen in future”.

The letter also noted: “When the providers of social media intervene against journalism they risk to damage the credibility of journalism. ‘Has the newspaper really told me everything I know? Or has Facebook taken any information away?’ Questions like these offer a threat both to journalism and the credibility of the social platform.”

Australian Press Council Chair David Weisbrot said: “The Councils’ executive director, John Pender, and I were fortunate to be able to participate in this discussion. I spoke critically about Facebook applying crude once-size-fits-all policies without any thought or discretion, and taking no account of whether an article was already subject to ethical scrutiny by a press council or was covering a matter of public interest. We were among others in highlighting specific examples of improper censorship by Facebook. Delegates authorised the AIPCE’s Coordinating Committee to write to Facebook calling on the company to open a dialogue with world press councils and to develop a transparent editorial policy that respects press freedom and freedom of speech.”

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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