Microsoft calls for Australian-style laws to be introduced in Europe

Microsoft has backed calls for Australia-style rules to be introduced in Europe that will force big tech companies to pay for news content. 

The company announced on Monday that it will join forces with four leading European media lobby groups to work on laws that mirror those in Australia.

Casper Klynge, vice president of the company, joined thousands of European publishers in calling for the new laws, saying the will help ‘preserve and promote journalism’ and are ‘critical to the success of democracy’.  

It comes after Facebook blocked access to all news content in Australia last week in protest at the rule-change, sparking international condemnation. 

Australian politicians are due to vote the laws into force this week, vowing today that Facebook’s protests will not convince them to change course. 

Microsoft joins the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the European Magazine Media Association, which together represent tens of thousands of publishers, in calling for the laws.

Mr Klynge said: ‘Access to fresh, broad and deep press coverage is critical to the success of our democracies. 

‘Our commitment to preserving and promoting journalism isn’t new. 

‘In October 2020, we launched a new initiative to invest in and support local media and, through Microsoft News, we have been sharing a large portion of revenue with press publishers. This initiative is a logical next step.’

Jean-Pierre de Kerraoul, President of ENPA added: ‘Independent journalism is vital to the social cohesion that is essential for democracy. 

‘But the internet and social media have not been kind to the free press with most outlets hit hard.

‘Democracy relies on a free press to make it through difficult times. Any proposal that strengthens democracy and supports a free press should be promoted by the technology industry, which is a product of the very same freedoms and values.’ 

No10 today said Britain would be 'robust in defending free speech in journalism' amid growing criticism of Mark Zuckerberg's behemoth.

Australia’s proposals mean that news publishers will have the right to demand payment from social media companies if their content is hosted on the sites.

If the two sides cannot reach a deal, then they must take their proposals to an arbitrator who will decide which deal is the fairest.

Google and Facebook have been leading opposition to the laws, but Google has since backed down and inked contracts with some of Australia’s largest news companies – including Ruper Murdoch’s News Corp.

Now, Microsoft and European publishing leaders want similar laws to be included in sweeping new legislation that is currently being worked on in Brussels.

EU leaders have already passed one law – the Digital Copyright Directive – which is due to come into force in June and has already helped publishers in France ink a $98million deal with Google for their content.

But the new laws would go further by bringing in a regulator to enforce deals between the tech giants and publishers, rather than relying on copyright law.

Similar laws are also being worked on in the UK and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has called for them to be introduced.

Hancock said the UK should follow Australia’s lead and said on Sunday that Oliver Dowden, the digital, culture, media and sport secretary, was watching the country ‘very closely’.

Meanwhile Julian Knight, head of Britain’s Digital, Culture and Media Committee, said it is time for social media giants to be ‘brought to heel’ after attempting to bully Australia into line.

Facebook ‘should face stern legislative action and be brought to heel that way rather than through the softly-softly approach which they said they wanted,’ Mr Knight said.

‘I think they’re almost using Australia as a test of strength for global democracies as to whether or not they wish to impose restrictions on the way in which they do business, or corrections to the way in which they operate within markets. 

‘So, we’re all behind Australia in my view,’ he said.

The decision means Daily Mail Australia's nearly five million followers can no longer access our news content on Facebook

Australia’s senate began debating the new laws on Monday after they were passed by the lower house of parliament last week.

Senators are expected to vote on the bill Tuesday, and it is expected to pass with a majority of support.

Simon Birmingham, Australia’s Minister for Finance, said ahead of the debate that Facebook’s protests will not produce significant changes to the law.

‘The bill as it stands … meets the right balance,’ he told ABC on Monday, adding that it ensures ‘Australian-generated news content by Australian-generated news organisations can and should be paid for and done so in a fair and legitimate way.’

‘There’s no reason Facebook can’t do and achieve what Google already has,’ Birmingham added.

Lobby group DIGI, which represents Facebook, Google and other online platforms like Twitter Inc, meanwhile said on Monday that its members had agreed to adopt an industry-wide code of practice to reduce the spread of misinformation online.

Under the voluntary code, they commit to identifying and stopping unidentified accounts, or ‘bots’, disseminating content; informing users of the origins of content; and publishing an annual transparency report, among other measures.


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