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Stopped at 60: Australia’s older generation restricted under Facebook’s news ban

The biggest media voice for older Australians has been silenced by Facebook, ignored by Google and the Morrison Government, writes Rebecca Wilson, CEO of Starts at 60. February 19, 2021 3:12 by REBECCA WILSON

Another day, another big sign that older Australians aren’t given much thought by the powers-that-be. Starts at 60 is Australia’s largest and most respected digital media brand dedicated to older Australians.

  • We provide news and information to a demographic that’s under-served by mainstream media companies and often isolated from the national conversation.

  • We serve an audience of more than a million monthly active users and have approximately 250,000 active email subscribers.

  • We are one of the most engaged media brands on Facebook, because an over-60 audience has the time and inclination to have news-based conversations on social media.

  • We source and publish information from Australia’s leading experts in finance and health on issues specifically relevant to over-60s.

  • And we provide a publishing platform to hundreds of older Australians who write about issues important to their peers.

Yet Starts at 60, one of the most important online media channels for Australian over-60s, is a casualty of the Federal Government’s media code negotiations with Facebook and Google – and neither the tech giants nor the government appears to be aware, or care, that this in turn impacts the hundreds of thousands of over-60s who use Starts at 60 as one of their few or only sources of information and conversation. We are extremely disappointed in how the negotiating process is playing out for three important reasons: 1. Our own government has pushed so forcefully for traditional media companies to be paid for content that it created a stand-off that critically damages the digital-only publishers that embrace Google’s and Facebook’s channels. (Yes, Starts at 60 has been shut down by Facebook). That’s not the behaviour of a government that wants a diverse media environment that serves under-represented communities. Nor a government that understands digital media has presented and continues to present a massive opportunity that – even if the ‘big boys’ in media missed it – has been used successfully by many small and medium-sized publishers to create new Australian jobs and offer previously unavailable services. 2. In reaction to the government’s push, which we’re deeply skeptical will benefit us as an independent digital publisher serving an ‘unsexy’ audience, Facebook has effectively shut down a distribution channel we’ve paid Facebook itself millions of dollars over more than nine years to develop and nurture. That’s not the behaviour of an organisation that values or respects the small-to-medium-sized businesses who are its customers. It’s hard not to view this as Facebook’s hand being forced by a government that doesn’t understand that many media companies willingly use Facebook to distribute their content and are happy to accept that distribution in return for supplying Facebook with content. 3. Google has quietened criticism of its position this week by spending money. But that money – in the form of Google News Showcase deals with traditional and large media providers and their digital offshots – is only adding to the imbalance that mostly favours old, large media companies that still rely on print or TV channels as their mainstay. There’s every chance the government will waive Google from complying with parts of the media code legislation, so leaving Google free to handpick news partners, at the expense of independent publishers serving purely digital audiences – the very publishers that don’t have large, traditional media companies as key stakeholders. Indeed, Starts at 60 has been informed by Google that it must ‘wait and see’ if Google actually needs to do any more deals before it is willing to discuss commercial arrangements with publishers other than those already signed. (The deals that have been signed include specialist digital outlets aimed at youth audiences but not one aimed at older Australians!) The result? Yet more power in the hands of a few, privileged news providers, fewer independent publishers catering to non-mainstream audiences, less entrepreneurship in the Australian media market and a media landscape that doesn’t feature the voices of Australia’s largest and fastest-growing demographic – that of over-60s.

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