Staff Reporters
Aug 4, 2021

Facebook begins phased rollout of News service in Australia

Social-media giant will pay publishers to populate its News service, having already struck deals with News Corp and Seven West. It has also announced two news funds, including one for small publishers.

Facebook begins phased rollout of News service in Australia

Facebook has announced two news funds in Australia and the launch of its News service in the market, the latest move in long battle over the value exchange it provides to publishers.

The social-media network has created a 'Newsroom Sustainability Fund' and a 'Public Interest Journalism Fund', through which it plans to allocate a total of AU$15 million (US$11.1 million) of funding over three years.

The 'Newsroom Sustainability Fund' will allocate AU$2.5 million per year over three years, in grants of up to AU$250,000, to fund innovation and revenue-generating projects at regional newsrooms and digital-first publications. The 'Public Interest Journalism Fund' will allocate the same money in grants of up to AU$120,000, to small, regional publishers and independent journalists to fund news projects of public interest value and to encourage media diversity. Facebook said the fund will particularly focus on providing support for underserved communities such as Indigenous Australians, LGBTQI+ community, youth and women's issues, rural affairs and local civic journalism.

In a blog post today (August 4), the company also announced it will begin to roll out Facebook News. The product consolidates news stories into a separate tab on the Facebook app. The feed is personalised to the user and provides the option to link news subscriptions. A team of journalists curates the top daily stories, rewarding original journalism. Facebook pays publishers to licence content for the service. Facebook News was first launched in the US and expanded into the UK in January this year after the company struck deals with a range of publishers.

Facebook said it would bring Facebook News to Australia in March, after it inked a three-year deal with News Corp to pay to carry its content. It had earlier signed a deal with another large media firm, Seven West, in February.

The tab will roll out to "a small number of Australians" from today with plans to expand to more users through the coming months, the company said.

"This phased launch will ensure the product works in a way that provides benefit to Australian audiences and publishers," Andrew Hunter, head of news partnerships for Facebook Australia said in the blog post.

The launch of Facebook News is the platform's way of complying with new legislation that was passed in Australia in March to address so-called imbalances in the value exchange of online news publishing.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code requires tech platforms such as Facebook and Google to reach commercial agreements with news media businesses in order to carry their news on their platforms. The platforms are required to pay a lump sum to each of the bargaining parties.

The law was brought in after more than a year of intense wrangling between the Australian government and the tech platforms. After Facebook played hardball by turning off news in Australia for a time to protest the law, the government ended up making several amendments to its original proposal of how the law would work.

Critics of the new law believe it only stands to benefits large publishers such as News Corp. Facebook's launch of the 'Public Interest Journalism Fund' for smaller publishers may be in response to this.

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