Australia PM reaches out to PM Modi for support in fight against Facebook

Feb 19, 2021 04:42 PM IST

The matter figured in a phone call between Morrison and Modi on Thursday, amid worldwide outrage over Facebook blacking out news and media content for its users in Australia and barring them from sharing news articles

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reached out to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for support in his fight against Facebook over a proposed law that aims to make the social media giant pay for sharing content from media organisations.

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (File photo)
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (File photo)

The matter figured in a phone call between Morrison and Modi on Thursday, amid worldwide outrage over Facebook blacking out news and media content for its users in Australia and barring them from sharing news articles.

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Morrison said in a tweet on Friday that he and his “good friend” Modi had “discussed progress of our [Australia’s] media platform bill” but didn’t give details. He said India and Australia, as comprehensive strategic partners, can work together on common challenges such as Covid-19, the circular economy and an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Also Read | Facebook’s Australia face-off could backfire across the globe

Morrison also told the media in Sydney on Friday that the law figured in his call with Modi. “There’s a lot of interest in it. People are looking at what Australia doing,” he said.

There was no official word from the Indian side on the conversation. Modi said in a tweet on Thursday that he and Morrison had reiterated their commitment to consolidating the comprehensive strategic partnership and discussed “regional issues of common interest”. He added, “Look forward to working together for peace, prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific.”

In a message posted on Facebook on Wednesday, Morrison had said he was “in regular contact with the leaders of other nations” over “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia...cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services”. He described Facebook’s actions as “arrogant” and “disappointing”.

Morrison’s raising of the issue with Modi on Thursday was the “first step of a plan to mobilise global support to stop Facebook ‘bullying’ elected governments”, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Morrison’s government is also preparing for a long-drawn battle with the tech giant if needed, the report said.

Anger grew in Australia after Facebook also blacked out posts from essential government departments such as state health departments, fire and rescue services and the Bureau of Meteorology, and crisis services such as Suicide Prevention Australia. Facebook has some 17 million users in Australia.

Also Read | Australian news sites’ traffic falls after Facebook blocks content: Report

The Australian side’s move to lobby India for support is understandable as the country is estimated to have more than 300 million Facebook users and is the tech giant’s largest market worldwide.

In his post on Facebook, Morrison said the company’s actions “only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them”.

He added, “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”

Morrison said Australia will “not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code. Just as we weren’t intimidated when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms.”

Ahead of Australia’s Senate debating the proposed law on Monday, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg held talks with treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Friday and the negotiations were set to continue over the weekend.

Canada too plans to make Facebook pay for news content and is seeking allies in the campaign against tech giants. Canada’s heritage minister Steven Guilbeault, who is overseeing efforts to frame similar legislation, condemned Facebook’s actions in Australia and said Canada could adopt the Australian model.

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