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Weekly Digest: Benevolent and Malevolent Governments

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Facebook’s news ban in Australia is likely the biggest media story of the week. In a response to a proposed law that would force the tech giant to pay for displaying publishers’ content, the company abruptly decided to block any news sharing for Australian users and Australian content.

The story is far from over, but Facebook already faces sharp backlash from lawmakers and activists – partly because the block affects not only general interest news but also critical safety information such as COVID-19 vaccination updates or information about bushfires from emergency services. Other voices, however, point to the fact that Facebook has never been designed as a place for important public information, and that a “de-coupling” of Facebook and news might be useful in the long run.

In the meanwhile, Google, another actor in the standoff between the world’s biggest tech giants and the smallest continent, moved in a different direction, agreeing to the government’s demands and striking a deal with publishers.

More from The Fix: Facebook blocks news in Australia. A ban with global implications

The crackdown on free press in Belarus intensified this week as two journalists had been sentenced to two years in a penal colony for streaming a rally in Minsk.

The judge found Kaciaryna Andreeva and Daria Chultsova guilty of “organizing actions that grossly violate public order.” The two journalists were detained in November 2020; they were streaming the memorial for deceased activist Raman Bandarenka.

Since the start of protests in late summer of the last year, over 500 journalists have been targeted by Belarusian authorities, in counts of assault ranging from beatings to arrests and jail sentences. 

More from The Fix: Two journalists sentenced to two years in penal colony for streaming a rally in Belarus 

Last week, we reported on the backlash in Poland against tax proposals that could hurt independent media. This week brought tentative positive news for the country’s media industry as the ruling party agreed to rewrite the draft law. 

The widespread protests against the proposal, which would tax up to 15% of advertising income, came not only from Polish political opposition but also from major media outlets and even the ruling Law and Justice party’s coalition partner, Reuters reports.

More from The Fix: Poland, Hungary, Belarus attacks on media freedom 

In New Zealand, the government has made a major commitment to public funding of news media.

A government agency committed NZ$55 million (33 million euro) for a fund that would support public interest journalism – “the biggest single boost in media funding for many years,” according to Radio New Zealand. Although a lot of details are yet to be worked out, this support will likely be a “game-changer” for some important outlets, including local ones, Radio New Zealand reports.

Vox, an American explanatory journalism outlet, has found its new chief editor. Swati Sharma, currently a managing editor at The Atlantic, will assume the position after the departure of Vox’s key leaders – previous editor-in-chief Lauren Williams, as well as co-founders Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias.

Vox, a digital native founded in 2014, had been hit hard by the pandemic due to its reliance on advertising revenue. Still, the outlet and its parent company Vox Media seem to be doing relatively well – partly thanks to its strong slate of podcasts and video production deals.

More from The Fix: Two co-founders are leaving Vox for New York Times and Substack / Digital media company OZY becomes profitable amid the pandemic  

Photo by Andrew Keymaster on Unsplash

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