Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi weigh in on Facebook's Australian news ban

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi says New Zealand "wouldn't be impressed" if Facebook banned Kiwis from accessing news on its platform the way it has in Australia. 

"They haven't threatened anything like that here but we wouldn't be impressed and I don't think New Zealanders signed up to Facebook would be impressed if that was their behaviour here in New Zealand," Faafoi said on Thursday. 

Facebook announced it would restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing news on its platform in the wake of a law change that would force social media giants like Facebook and Google to pay news outlets for their content. 

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in April last year it would help "level the playing field" by requiring digital platforms to pay news media businesses for the content they produce. He said it was only fair that those that generate content get paid for it. 

Google lashed out at the proposal in January, with managing director for Australia Mel Silva telling the Australian Senate the company would "have no choice" but to pull out of the market. It has since struck multimillion-dollar deals with two large TV networks.  

Facebook on the other hand is not budging. Under the ban, the Australian population is unable to view or share both local and international news content on the platform. 

Science & Technology Australia chief executive Misha Schubert said the move to block content from science organisations risked denying the public access to important scientific and health information.

"For Facebook to block access to the feeds of trusted science and health organisations in Australia during a pandemic and bushfire season is irresponsible and dangerous."

Faafoi described Facebook's move as "pretty extreme", but said on the flip side there's some "encouraging signs" of platforms talking directly to media companies and doing deals about paying for content. 

Google's arrangements with Nine News and Seven Network in Australia are worth around AU$30 million each.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi.
Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub

"It's been problematic for some time," Faafoi said. "It's still early sprouts, but if those platforms and media companies are starting to have those conversations, I think it's an early promising sign that if we have substantive conversations with them, we might be able to get some traction to garner some revenue for media companies."

Gavin Ellis, a former editor of the NZ Herald, made a submission on the plight of the New Zealand media to the Epidemic Response Committee last year, saying digital giants have got away with 'stealing' news content for too long. 

Faafoi said the Ministry of Culture and Heritage has been instructed to advise the Government from a New Zealand perceptive. He said there are encouraging signs across the globe, such as Google agreeing to pay French publishers for news content

"They'll come back to us at some stage soon hopefully with some advice about how we might deal with some of the regulatory issues around media."

Frydenberg tweeted that he had a "constructive discussion" with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who "raised a few remaining issues" with Australia's new law. He said they agreed to continue trying to find a solution. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has experience communicating with tech giants in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, after it was revealed the terrorist live-streamed the atrocity on social media and became radicalised by watching YouTube clips. 

It led Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron to establish the Christchurch Call, a voluntary commitment from governments and online providers intended to thwart terrorist and violent extremist content online. 

Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, as well as Australia, Canada, the UK, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Norway and Sweden are among the more than 60 signatories so far. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

"Australia has chosen to take a particular path with their own legislation," Ardern said on Thursday. "We have not done that but that's not to say there aren't issues that we are working through in our own way and on our own time and in many cases directly with Facebook."

Ardern frequently uses the Facebook Live tool to update her followers. 

"I think in no way does that change or remove my responsibility to make sure on behalf of New Zealand that where we see things that we don't think fits with our values, raising them directly with the company, as we've done particularly in the wake of Christchurch, as we did with YouTube in the aftermath of hearing that the terrorist in that case gained information and knowledge through the use of YouTube for that attack," she said. 

"Our issues we've been raising on an ongoing basis. The way that Australia chooses to deal with issues is for them. We'll keep addressing things through our own legislation and our own communication."

Last week the Government launched a $55 million fund to rescue "grassroots public interest journalism" in New Zealand - the second financial package for media since the COVID-19 pandemic began.