Opinion: local news and local jobs at risk following Meta announcement

Country Press Australia president Andrew Schreyer. (Supplied)

Andrew Schreyer, Country Press Australia president

Australia’s largest organisation of newspaper publishers has attacked the announcement by Meta that it will no longer negotiate deals with publishers once current agreements expire.

Country Press Australia [CPA] represents more than 230 regional, rural and outer suburban publications across the nation.

The organisation was advised through an email from Meta on March 1 that “our company priorities have substantially shifted in the past year and, as a result, we will no longer be making Facebook news tab available in Australia”.

Meta also confirmed “This doesn’t affect our agreement with CPA which will continue in accordance with its terms and conditions until it expires”.

In a subsequent meeting, between CPA and Meta it was made clear that CPA’s agreement with Meta would not be renewed.

This is a devastating blow to our members who are party to the agreement.

Meta has been providing grants to CPA publishers which has provided vital sustainability.

There will be publishers who close the doors and won’t be able to continue supporting their communities with news in the wake of this announcement. These regional and local publishers are the major, and in most cases sole, providers of local public interest journalism in their communities.

In times of trouble and in emergency situations, such as during floods and in major bushfire events, the local publisher’s Facebook page is never more important or appreciated by people in our communities.

Meta’s actions undermine our democracy in the way the company displays such disdain for the work of the news industry. It also undermines public confidence in the media sector.

The most popular Facebook pages in most regional and rural communities are those of the local news publishing company, yet Meta says people don’t go to Facebook for news or political content.

What about in times of bushfire and floods or when the chips are down and someone in the community needs help? Local experience would suggest otherwise.

If, by Meta’s own admission, Australians don’t go to Facebook for news or political content, then the federal government should heed the advice of Meta and immediately cease advertising on Meta’s platforms.

Sadly, jobs will definitely be lost as a result of Meta’s decision, but it’s hard to put a number on this.

Given the already well-documented challenges our industry faces, this announcement will force many publishers to confront the issues ahead of them and cut staff.

The reaction from our members in the aftermath of the announcement has been one of deep concern, alarm and even anger.

The federal government must act to give assurance to our industry and to support the democratic infrastructure that is the newspaper industry. And it needs to move swiftly, decisively and with purpose.

We need government to support the news industry and invoke the news media bargaining code.

Facebook reaped the benefits of our members’ unique local content for many years, and has paid those local and regional publishers for only the last three years and will now not renew their agreement with CPA.

A democracy cannot function without a healthy news sector, and this is now heavily at risk in regional and local communities after Meta’s decision.

It is important that the federal government responds swiftly to this decision and considers all possible action including designating Meta under the News Media Bargaining Code and other options available to them and the ACCC.

It is vital that news media is adequately compensated for the content that Facebook has been able to build their business from over many years and ensure a strong and robust news media industry which is vital for a healthy democracy.

It is also vital that the federal government ensures strong support of the industry now more than ever before and ensures the News Media Assistance Program (News MAP) is finalised urgently.