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Global news organisations denounce Facebook ad policy that will ‘legitimise anti-journalism narratives’

By Sam Forsdick

A collective of global media groups have spoken out against Facebook’s new ad policy designed to “increase transparency and accountability” which categorises news publishers alongside political advertisers.

The new ad transparency rules affect “anyone that wants to show ‘issue ads’ — like political topics that are being debated across the country” according to Facebook’s initial announcement of the changes in April.

These ads – or news posts – will be labelled as political on users’ newsfeeds and will have to be authorised before they can be posted.

Media bodies have condemned the move claiming “Facebook will undermine journalism’s role as the Fourth Estate and legitimise anti-journalism narratives around the world”.

They added that Facebook risked “censoring high-quality journalism”.

Facebook is also trialling a scheme that will see these ads released in a “searchable archive” that will include additional information such as the amount spent and the demographic audience.

Several media groups, representing hundreds of media organisations from around the world, yesterday sent a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

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They said it is important that Facebook’s new framework “recognises and values high-quality journalism separately and apart from political or issue-based advocacy found across the platform”.

The letter reads: “Placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising implies that Facebook considers there is a political agenda behind journalism.

“This is not a marketing or business issue. We see your policy as another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda.”

“Marketing our products, or subscriptions to our products, is not separate from our journalism or from press freedom.

“Our marketing must reflect our journalism and tell the story of what it takes to produce credible, source-reported, quality news.

“We cannot and will not engage in any process that conflates legitimate newsgathering with politics or advocacy.”

The letter was signed by the News Media Alliance, European Publishers Council, Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of News Editors, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Association of Magazine Media and Digital Content Next.

News Media Alliance president David Chavern said: “Facebook’s new policy to classify news content as political advocacy could do irreparable harm to the news media industry. We are collectively proposing a workable solution for all.”

The groups requested a clear exemption for professional news publishers so that all posts from news organisations remain outside any archive until Facebook comes up with a solution.

They also asked that all news posts are treated as general advertising and are not put into the political category just because they mention politics or related issues.

Finally they suggested that the global news industry could play a leading role in developing and maintaining a news exemption under this Facebook policy.

Rob Goldman, vice president for ads at Facebook, and Alex Himel, vice president of Facebook local and pages, outlined the need for ad transparency.

In the announcement, they said: “Today’s updates are designed to prevent future abuse in elections and to help ensure you have the information that you need to assess political and issue ads, as well as content on Pages.

“By increasing transparency around ads and Pages on Facebook, we can increase accountability for advertisers improving our service for everyone.”

Picture: Reuters/Stephen Lam

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