NICK Clegg today launched a “bizarre” and “patronising” rant about Facebook’s controversial Australia news ban.
The former deputy PM, now the tech firm’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, was branded “disingenuous” after moaning the site’s position had been “misunderstood”.
Nick Clegg has been blasted for his ‘patronising’ rant on the Australia news banCredit: Alamy Live News
He made the remarks in a blog post headlined ‘The real story of what happened with news on Facebook in Australia’.
In it Clegg argued Facebook temporarily imposed a blackout on sharing news content in the country because a new law would have left it signing a “blank cheque” to publishers.
He said that it was because of a “fundamental misunderstanding” about the platform’s relationship with publishers.
And the former Lib Dem leader claimed that forcing Facebook to pay for news is like “forcing car makers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car, and letting the stations set the price”.
It comes as the tech giant vowed to pay at least £700million for news over the next three years.
Facebook announced the cash in a blog post defending its ban on Australian news.
The restriction, which it lifted on Monday, followed a draft law which would have forced it to pay.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally agreed to end the week-long ban after talks with ministers.
MPs were among those criticising Clegg for his “bizarre statements”.
Commons Culture Committee chair and Solihull MP Julian Knight told the MailOnline: “Nick Clegg’s bizarre statements remind me of the old saying if you are in a hole stop digging.
“The idea that Facebook is some sort of innocent drawn into a row because of its pesky users posting news stories stretches credulity to breaking point.
“To use an analogy of Clegg-like proportions, it’s like blaming students for the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto promising to abolish tuition fees.”
MPs were among those criticising Clegg for his “bizarre statements”Credit: Getty Images – Getty
And former culture committee chair Damian Collins and Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe described the blog post as “pretty disingenuous” and patronising “even by his own high standards”.
He said: “He [Clegg] implied that Facebook is doing the news industry a favour.
“If you look what has happened in Australia, not only do Facebook and Google control 80 per cent of the advertising market, since 2006 ad revenues for newspapers have fallen by over 50 per cent.
‘That has led to papers closing, journalists being laid off, it has created a real problem which is what the competition authorities are trying to address.
“Nick Clegg seems to neither understand nor care about anything like that.
“He completely ignores the fact that Facebook makes money by people engaging with content on its platform.
“It sells advertising against that. And that includes sharing news articles.”
He continued: “Facebook has got a business model where it makes money out of other people’s content and other people’s data, and it doesn’t think it should have to pay for it.
“The time has come when it does.”
Australian politicians have proposed forcing digital businesses to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies with draft legislation that could create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.
The code would create an arbitration panel to set a binding price for news in situations where Google and Facebook do not reach deals with media businesses whose original journalism they link to.
Facebook argued the proposed Bill was unfair and chose to stop allowing news on the platform, but has now lifted that ban.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally agreed to end week-long ban after talks with ministersCredit: AP:Associated Press
Facebook’s vice president of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said Australian ministers assured him the site will be free “to support the publishers we choose to”.
British politicians previously hit out at the tech giant’s “bully boy” tactics, saying it showed a “staggering lack of respect” for democratic processes.
Mr Knight said Facebook’s actions would raise questions over whether the UK government should toughen its upcoming online harms legislation.
He told The Times: “These bully-boy tactics are absolutely crass and irresponsible, particularly at a time of global pandemic when people need trusted news sources.
“It’s Australia first, who will be next?”
And Matt Hancock said Britain should follow Australia and insist Facebook pays media companies for their news content.
The Health Secretary told Times Radio: “I have very strong views on this.
“All I can say is that I’m a great admirer of Australia and Canada. I think this is a very important matter.”
A senior government source told The Times the government is preparing a code to monitor the behaviour of social media behemoths like Facebook.
Writing online Clegg said that while it was “understandable” that some news publishers “see Facebook as a potential source of money to make up for their losses”, it would not have been fair to be able to demand a “blank cheque”.
“That’s what the Australian law, as it was proposed, would have done,” he added.
“Facebook would have been forced to pay potentially unlimited amounts of money to multinational media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook – without even so much as a guarantee that it is used to pay for journalism, let alone support smaller publishers.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is set to meet with Facebook executives over the tech giant’s decision after Downing Street said it was “concerned” about the situation.
Clegg said Facebook was “more than willing to partner with news publishers” and pointed to its Facebook News service, which pays news publishers for their content and recently launched in the UK.
He said Facebook remained open to discussing greater regulation of the tech sector.
“There are legitimate concerns to be addressed about the size and power of tech companies, just as there are serious issues about the disruption the internet has caused to the news industry,” he said.