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Newspapers get ORF banned from Facebook

A court in Austria has upheld a complaint by newspaper publishers that stops state broadcaster the ORF using Facebook because it gave them an unfair advantage.

The court ruled the ORF's statutes do not allow it a presence on the social media site.

The Administrative Court was acting on an appeal from the ORF, which challenged the Austrian communications authority KommAustria's conclusion of 12 January this year that the broadcaster’s Facebook presence gave it an unfair competitive edge against private broadcast and print media. They said it "constituted unlawful cooperation with Facebook as a social network".

The Austrian ORF Act prohibits the ORF from offering online services in the form of social networks, including links to and other forms of cooperation with them. Article 4f is the part that deals with the provision of online services by the ORF, including a list of services that may not be offered. Under Article 4f(2)(25), these include social networks and links to social networks and other forms of cooperation with them. An exception applies to links related to ORF’s own online news reports, i.e., links shown editorially, including as part of a report. This exception did not apply in the cases examined here. That meant the ruling did not affect the ORF’s news summaries posted on Facebook.

The case concerned a total of 62 different ORF Facebook pages. Some content was provided by commissioned producers and some directly by ORF staff and editors. The pages contained not only the type of information found on a traditional website, but also opportunities to interact with registered Facebook users.

The ORF in its appeal argued that the pages were not social networks, but marketing activities or web content which it, like any other company, provided as part of its online activities and which were comparable to traditional websites. The regulator disagreed, especially since Facebook was more or less the prototype of a social network. It also noted that, in order to participate, Facebook’s terms of use had to be accepted, which amounted to a form of cooperation.

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