CNN said it has restricted access to its Facebook Inc. FB -3.66% pages in Australia following a ruling from that country’s high court that makes news organizations legally liable for comments on their Facebook posts.
Facebook users in Australia will no longer have access to major pages run by the network, including its primary Facebook page, its CNN International page and pages dedicated to its shows, a CNN spokeswoman said.
CNN, a unit of AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia, appears to be the first major U.S. media organization to publicly restrict Australian access to its Facebook pages following a ruling this month from the High Court of Australia that made news organizations legally liable for comments on their Facebook pages.
The court ruled that media companies facilitated and encouraged comments from users by creating public Facebook pages and posting content on them. According to the court, media companies are responsible for any defamatory content that appears on them because they are considered publishers of the comments.
After that ruling, CNN asked Facebook whether it would consider helping news organizations disable comments on all of their pages in Australia to avoid potential legal risks, according to a person close to CNN. Facebook declined to disable all comments on CNN’s pages in Australia and instead offered to help CNN disable comments on its posts one by one, the person said.
Ultimately, CNN concluded that managing comments on posts from each of its accounts was too time-consuming and instead opted to restrict access to its pages in the country, the person said. CNN executives believe that Facebook should be responsible for helping publishers comply with laws that apply to content on its platform, the person said.
“We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure its platform is a place for credible journalism and productive dialogue around current events among its users,” a CNN spokeswoman said.
In a statement, Facebook said it supported the reform of Australia’s defamation laws and said it provided CNN with features to manage comments. AT&T earlier this year agreed to spin off CNN parent WarnerMedia and merge that business with Discovery Inc
“We continue to provide Australians a destination for quality journalism, including through Facebook News which we launched in August,” Facebook said.
News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, has a commercial agreement to supply news through Facebook.
A relatively small fraction of CNN’s total online audience comes from Australia. According to measurement firm Comscore, less than 2 million of the company’s 166 million unique users globally in August originated in Australia. CNN’s website remains accessible in the country—just not the major CNN Facebook pages promoting its articles.
Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com
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Appeared in the September 29, 2021, print edition.