Australia’s new Bill to regulate Facebook, Google figures in Morrison’s chat with PM Modi

It assumes significance as India has looked at reining in social media platforms

February 20, 2021 11:39 am | Updated 11:47 am IST - NEW DELHI

A file picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison during a virtual meeting.

A file picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison during a virtual meeting.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has discussed Canberra’s media policy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The conversation was held in the backdrop of the Morrison government’s negotiation with tech giants Facebook and Google, which led to temporary suspension of many Australian accounts on social media platforms on Thursday.

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“As Comprehensive Strategic Partners, we can work together on common challenges including COVID-19, the circular economy, oceans and an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific. We also discussed the progress of our media platform Bill,” said Mr. Morrison on Friday after the conversation with Mr. Modi.

Mr. Modi had informed about his discussion with Mr. Morrison a day before but his social media post did not highlight the portion on the Australian Bill.

According to the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2020, big tech and social media giants like Facebook and Google will have to pay local news outlets for using their content. The move is being studied worldwide as it will set a precedent in the use of web-based news and content that may permanently impact the use of the Internet in Australia.

It is in this broader, transcontinental context that the discussion on the domestic Australian rule between the two leaders is being viewed as unusual. It appears that following enactment, the Bill is likely to influence other democratically elected governments who are struggling to contain online exchanges.

Mr. Morrison has repeatedly said that his government will not be intimidated by the power of the social media giants who have been resisting the rule, saying it runs against the fundamental principle of free movement of information online. On Thursday, many Australian entities and individuals were blocked on Facebook, a move described as “unfriending” by the social media giant.

The discussion with Mr. Modi is being viewed as significant as the Centre has looked at reining in major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter over freedom of expression and the ongoing farmers’ protest.

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