News black-out by Australian digital publishers in Facebook fight

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 22 March 2022

More than 30 independent media outlets today stop publishing news for 24 hours in a collective freeze to fight for the future of Australian news media.

The news black-out #WaitingOnZuck is part of a demand by small and medium news publishers to be paid for journalism and content that appears on the Facebook platform. 

The independent news outlets, including Broadsheet, Concrete Playground, Urban List, City Hub, Star Observer, Australian Jewish News, and Australian Chinese Daily, will freeze their news feed for the day and replace it with a direct message for Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

These publishers are currently waiting on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his businesses to come to the negotiating table and make commercial deals that are transparent, fair, and pay for quality independent journalism.\

A Meta Spokesperson: “Commercial deals are just one of the ways that Meta provides support to publishers, and we’ve had ongoing discussions with publishers about the types of news content that can best deliver value for publishers and for Meta.

"We’ve made meaningful contributions to the Australian news ecosystem to date, including signing commercial deals that will support more than 200 newsrooms across the country. We recently announced funding for 54 dynamic smaller newsrooms and independent publishers across the country through our Australian News Fund, in partnership with the Walkley Foundation. These substantial investments cover the vast majority of newsrooms producing public interest journalism in Australia."

The news black-out warns of a future without independent news if publishers don't get a fair deal and a level playing field.

The #WaitingOnZuck campaign, which will replace news feeds for 24 hours, encourages Australians to email Josh Frydenberg and let him know that Mark Zuckerberg will continue to erode the Australian news media landscape without greater accountability for Facebook to negotiate with independent publishers.

Twelve months ago, the Australian Federal Government passed the News Media Bargaining Code into law. This aims to reduce the imbalance between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Facebook and Google.

Under the Code, the digital platforms are legislated into commercial negotiations with local media companies. Facebook has negotiated deals directly with the large media networks but they have failed to negotiate with most of Australia's independent publishers. 

Nick Shelton, Founder and Publisher of Broadsheet Media: "The unintended consequences of how this code has been handled is that independent publishers face unprecedented competition from our publishing colleagues who have struck deals. With millions and millions of dollars now being spent on talent, marketing, technology and audience acquisition, independents are finding it impossible to compete.

“Facebook and Google can pick the winners and losers in Australian media, which is something the Australian public should be very worried about.  The only way for independent media to survive is to designate the platforms.”

The #WaitingOnZuck campaign is created by D.O.A., which stands for Decade of Action - a consultancy focused on social purpose, led by Ebony Gaylor.

Ebony Gaylor: "We are strong believers in the role of journalism, and independent journalism, in protecting a healthy democracy.  Without the right funding structures independent journalism is under threat. We want Zuckerberg and anyone else profiting off the work journalists do to pay a reasonable price. That’s all." 

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