The move makes CNN, which is owned by AT&T Inc, the first major news organization to withdraw its Facebook presence in Australia since the country’s High Court this month ruled that editors were legally responsible for comments posted under the stories – although the stories themselves weren’t libelous.
CNN doesn’t feature prominently in Australian media consumption, but the move could have repercussions in the industry if other media follow suit. A host of global leaders have boosted their operations in Australia in recent years after identifying the country as a growing market.
“This is the first domino to fall,” said Michael Bradley, managing partner of Brand Lawyers, which works on libel cases. “Others will follow for sureâ¦ mainly media entities who think they can live happily without the Australian audience on Facebook.”
CNN said Facebook has turned down a request for help and other publishers have turned off public comments in the country following the ruling, which was released in an ongoing libel lawsuit.
CNN’s main Facebook page displayed an error message when viewed from Australia on Wednesday.
“We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure that its platform is a place of credible journalism and productive dialogue around the news among its users,” said a spokesperson. from CNN in a statement.
A Facebook spokesperson said recent court rulings had shown the need for reform of Australia’s libel law and the company looked forward to “greater clarity and certainty in this area.”
âWhile it is not our responsibility to provide legal advice to CNN, we have provided them with the latest information on the tools we make available to help editors manage comments,â the spokesperson said.
Facebook says it has several features available to editors and other users to restrict who can comment on posts. She and CNN did not give details of the discussions that led to CNN’s decision.
Social media is a central channel for content distribution in Australia, with around two-thirds of the country’s 25 million people on Facebook, according to industry figures. About a third of the nation’s population used Facebook for information in 2021, according to a report from the University of Canberra.
But it coincided with an explosion of libel lawsuits, prompting several state and federal governments to consider whether existing laws are appropriate in the Internet age.
âThe fact that a foreign media outlet like CNN is pulling out shows how Australian laws have failed to keep pace with technological change,â said Matt Collins, a prominent defamation lawyer.
CNN would not have equivalent exposure in the United States and relatively little exposure in Britain or other English-speaking countries like New Zealand, he added. “Australia is an exception among Western democracies, when it comes to the circumstances in which media organizations and any social media user can be held responsible for content that they themselves have not written or approved.”