New dawn for old media? Facebook ban on news posts looking likely in Denmark

As Australian outlets rally to attract readers, the Danish culture minister is adamant the tech giants should pay for content

A future of soft facts? (photo: pxhere.com)
February 22nd, 2021 11:47 am| by Ben Hamilton

Facebook’s ban on news posts on the pages of its Australian members, in response to a new law that would require the tech company to pay a fee for every single link, resulted in a 93 percent decrease in traffic on Australian news outlets over the 24 hours that followed.

However, since then, the media outlet sites have rallied, imploring news-hungry Australians to come directly to the source instead. Many had started to out of necessity anyway, as international media posts are also prohibited by Facebook.  

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has particularly benefited, as its ABC News app shot has risen to the top of Apple’s App Store charts in the country. Previously it ranked between 600 and 700th. 

Canada is also seriously considering new laws similar to Australia’s.

Just 4 percent of our content, argues Facebook
And now in Denmark, the culture minister, Joy Mogensen is advocating similar measures that could also see news posts be banned. They are set to be part of a bill next month.

The issue has been one of much debate for some time now, and Martin Ruby, the head of public policy for Benelux & Nordics at Facebook, has already laughed off such a proposal.

In September, speaking to Journalisten, he suggested that “the media overestimates the commercial value that news has for us” – arguing that news posts accounted for 4 percent of all content.

“We do not think that is fair. If a magazine can post a news item on Facebook and send me a bill afterwards, then you create a rather strange incentive,” he said.

Collective bargaining the way forward
The EU has already adopted a directive on copyright, which sets minimum standards to be set by member states, but Mogensen’s proposal goes far further. 

She wants to green-light collective bargaining for Denmark’s media outlets, as opposed to letting them strike individual deals.

“We have chosen to go further than the EU requires, by giving the Danish media companies the opportunity to negotiate together with tech giants,” she said, according to DR.

“Then they must not stand one by one and fight against the very large and powerful companies that tech giants have become.”

If the media outlets and Facebook are unable to agree, the matter will be decided by Ophavsretslicensnævnet, the copyright licensing board, of which a Supreme Court judge is the chair.

Breeding ground for conspiracy theories
In response to Ruby’s claim that news content isn’t worth much, Mogensen expressed concern that “it showed an indifference to what gives their product value” and “calls into question the democratic mindset of one of the world’s most dominant media companies”.

“I do not know if it is because they do not understand it, or do not care about the importance of news media in a democratic society,” she continued.

“If the tech giants did not have properly produced content from artists or companies, what would be the reason for users to search there? It could very quickly become a place for tin foil hats and conspiracy theories. And then Facebook would fall in value.”

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