Concern raised in Australia about draft bill aimed at combatting misinformationJuly 28th, 2023
by Daniel Jack
The Australian Labor Government has revealed a new draft bill that will empower the Australians Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in an attempt to combat misinformation.
The ACMA is an independent Commonwealth statutory authority. Their role is to regulate Australia’s communications and media. The proposed laws will give ACMA the power to compel digital platforms to maintain records related to misinformation and disinformation.
These powers are derived from recommendations made in the ACMA’s June 2021 report to the government regarding the adequacy of digital platforms’ measures on disinformation and news quality.
In response to the bill, Australia’s Shadow Communications Minister, David Colman—a member of the opposition coalition—has expressed concern over the proposed bill, commenting on the risk of online platforms proactively censoring users to avoid government penalties.
On his TV show, The Bolt Report, political commentator Andrew Bolt labelled the proposed bill “Half-Baked” and “Arrogant”. He expressed concerns that the exemption of state and federal governments from any penalties outlined in this bill could potentially lead to governments abusing the proposed laws.
While the new laws would grant the ACMA significant power, Labor has crafted them with the stated goals of quelling misinformation and disinformation from circulating online.
Communication Minister Michelle Rowland said the following on the bill in a recent press release:
“The Albanese Government is committed to keeping Australians safe online, and that includes ensuring the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis and disinformation on their services.”
The bill will seek to compel online platforms to suppress misinformation. This would be achieved by providing users with stronger tools to identify and report misinformation and disinformation, ensuring a more robust complaints handling, and making more extensive use of fact-checkers.
Labor will face an uphill battle in convincing the Coalition that this bill is in the interest of the Australian public. Significant concerns necessitate addressing: What does this bill signify for Australians’ freedom of speech, and could this be governmental overreach?