Publishers criticized the result from the Facebook Australian News Fund.
The Walkley Foundation handled the judging process independently of Meta, formerly Facebook. A total of 54 recipients received funding of $5 million.
Meta told publishers last year that it had stopped negotiating licensing deals and encouraged publishers to apply for the funding program.
Meta is not legally bound to enter into any agreements as it, or any other digital platform, has been appointed by the Treasurer under the News Media Dealing Code (the Code). The ACCC estimated the value of the deals struck so far with Meta and Google could potentially be more than $200 million. If Meta were designated as a digital platform, the code would require it to enter into commercial agreements with entities that have been registered as news companies by the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA).
The federal government earlier this week, when announcing a code review, encouraged digital platforms to continue to negotiate in good faith. ACCC Chairman Rod Sims in the Press Gazette signaled that the federal government should be prepared to designate Facebook as a digital platform under the code.
Publisher and broadsheet director Nick Shelton told Mumbrella: “Facebook’s News Fund and the way they handled their response to the news media trading code was a joke.
“I do not want to harm the many worthy recipients of the fund. There are many excellent editors and journalists included. But Facebook’s duplicity and manipulation of publishers has been outrageous,” he said.
Shelton went on to describe the frustration he had with Meta going back and forth at meetings, which he said was a hijacking of Broadsheet’s attempts to secure funding, and the encouragement that Broadsheet was the type. publication that would receive funding under the program. .
“Andrew Hunter, head of news partnerships at Facebook, requested a meeting with us in August where he first spoke about the Facebook News Fund. Broadsheet had been looking to negotiate a deal with a publisher since March, but hadn’t done so. no significant progress.Every time we spoke, Andrew would veer off and tell me that there were new products coming that might be suitable for us.
Shelton continued: “We discovered yesterday that, like many other independent publishers who have registered with the ACMA as qualifying news publishers (having met the qualifying publisher criteria under the trading code), our applications were unsuccessful.
“It was a colossal waste of time. Not to mention the lost months when we should have negotiated in good faith with Facebook.
“It’s clear to us that the fund was always designed to distract from trade negotiations and to limit Facebook’s exposure to code outside of the small handful of deals it was forced into in order to ‘Avoid the designation.’ It appears the fund has been successful on this front so far.
“The reason it’s so important for small independent publishers to be recognized and able to enter into business deals is that without them we are at a huge disadvantage compared to our competitors. The big players, who we compete with every day, now have a significant additional revenue stream that we don’t have access to – despite being recognized as eligible by the ACMA and the government. That means we’re overspending on talent, marketing, technology, and everything else needed to run a competitive, top-tier publication.
“Without access to these deals, I fear for the small and independent publishing industry. Over the next few years, we could see consolidations and closures until nobody is left.
“We remain open and optimistic that Facebook will come to the table and negotiate with us, and other independent publishers, in good faith,” Shelton said.
Women’s Agenda told a similar story, having been strongly encouraged to apply for the program, but without success.
Tarla Lambert, co-founder of Agenda Media and editor-in-chief of Women’s Agenda, told Mumbrella: “At the end of the day, what happened just doesn’t satisfy the media code of negotiation legislation. of information that has been put in place to protect independent publishers such as Agenda Media.
“It was hard to feel anything other than being extremely frustrated with Meta’s response last year that they would open this grant instead of negotiating deals with publishers, like Google had. But we also clearly informed and encouraged that Women’s Agenda would be a prime candidate for funding.
“The proposal we filed, to better support and expand our existing podcast network, took a long time and a concerted effort to put in place. And for a small team with limited resources, it’s always hard to justify exercises like this. We did, with the hope that we would end up with at least some funding, but obviously those hopes were dashed this week when we received the press release listing the recipients and no further correspondence from Meta.
“There were 54 recipients selected for funding of $5 million. How far can $5 million really stretch?
“There were only six members on the juries for the two grant streams – the Aus News Fund and the Public Interest Journalism Fund. The claims were filed late last year, meaning judges would have had to dissect 169 claims over an extremely short period of time. It’s certainly not the fault of the judges, but it’s hard to conclude that they were able to review the entries thoroughly enough in that time frame.
The Brag Media, which has not yet reached an agreement with Meta or Google, also applied for the program and was unsuccessful.
Brag Media CEO Luke Girgis took to Twitter on this yesterday:
Meta issued a $15 million grant to silence all hate from publishers. They gave the Walkley Foundation the responsibility of distributing the $$ which then chose mostly non-profit publishers or small niche publishers.
Now Australia’s biggest independent publishers are more pissed off. Meta can’t find a win.
— Luke Girgis (@LukeGirgis) March 2, 2022
When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Meta said: ‘We have encouraged publishers deemed eligible for funding to apply to Meta’s Australian News Fund, in partnership with the Walkley Foundation. This fund is an important part of our investment in Australian news to support the sustainability of smaller, regional, rural and digital newsrooms. As stated in the terms and conditions, various publications, including digital, regional and lifestyle publishers, would be eligible and considered for the independent panel process. We understand this was a highly competitive process – and it was good to see the fund was widely known – but not everyone was successful.
Meta encouraged publishers eligible for funding under Meta’s News Fund to apply, but, as mentioned above, the judges and funding recipients were chosen by Walkley’s independent judging panel.
A Walkley Foundation spokesperson said: “Opinions on the outcome do not alter the integrity of the process. The Walkley Foundation operates the program independently of Facebook remotely.
“This means that we appoint a panel of independent industry expert judges for each fund to assess the entries. Facebook has no control over the process for selecting judges or projects, and did not know who the winners were until we notified them at the end of the process.
“We apply a rigorous judgment process before deciding on the strongest projects to support. Many projects received partial funding, allowing 54 projects to be supported instead of the minimum allowed number of 27 projects.
The trial process lasted more than two months.