Democracy’s Battle Against the Oncoming Storm
The Albanese Government is proposing the Combating Misinformation and Disinformation Bill, which would see the government define what truth is and give power to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and online platforms (META, YouTube) to enforce it.
The government and mainstream media would be exempt from the rules of this bill.
The Albanese Government would empower ACMA to stop the spread of what it deems as “misinformation” (false information) or “disinformation” (deliberately false information) if it has the potential to cause “serious harm.” Critics argue that the definition of harm is subjective and dependent on the judgment of anonymous bureaucrats.
This bill essentially aims to enable tech companies to censor what the government perceives as problematic speech.
The government would be the ultimate authority of truth.
Ideological conformity would be enforced in Australia.
The impacts would be devastating.
It’s imperative for Australians to amplify their voice, and push back against this draft Bill, while they can.
The Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 (Cth) is the Albanese Government’s proposed law to combat online ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ which allegedly ‘pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of Australians, as well as our democracy, society and economy’. If passed, the Bill will empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to compel online service providers to censor online speech that it considers to be ‘harmful’. ACMA will also have the power to impose significant penalties on online service providers.
This Bill will impose some of the most draconian controls on free speech in the Western world.
It is an attack on freedom of speech that is inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations and is out of step with equivalent European laws. The Bill enables government bureaucrats and big tech to silence and censor speech that goes far beyond reasonable limitation.
The Bill will give government the power to silence religious and political speech that contradicts prevailing ideologies and political messaging. The Bill fails to include mechanisms to protect valid expression of opinion and belief or to ensure that there are clear and defined limits on suppression of speech.
The Bill sets out a framework to restrict speech that is deemed to be ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ which is vaguely defined in the Bill as anything that ACMA determines is false, misleading or deceptive. Digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, Google and Netflix will be required by ACMA-regulated codes and standards to police and remove ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. However, government communications are exempted from the Bill as are comedy/entertainment programmes, professional news content, and private messages.
If I make a post that is deemed to contain ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’, will I be punished under the Bill?
You can’t personally be penalised under the Bill if you make a post that ACMA deems to be ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’. However, the Bill would encourage service providers to take internal disciplinary action such as removing your posts or suspending your accounts where they deem you to have breached a code or standards. If the online platforms don’t take such disciplinary actions, they face severe financial penalties imposed by ACMA.
You can write a submission to the Australian Government outlining your views on the problems you see with the Bill and any potential recommendations you see that could reduce the harmful impact of the Bill. You can submit this through the government website, through emailing [email protected], or through posting to the following address:
Information Integrity Section
Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 215
CANBERRA ACT 2601
You can pray for wisdom in our government leaders who are considering the Bill, for a blessing on the advocacy and educational work that the ACL is undertaking to fight this Bill, and for the preservation of the freedom to continue proclaiming God’s truth in Australia.
- The Bill is a significant overreach by the government.
- The Bill is inconsistent with fundamental freedoms of speech and communication under international human rights instruments like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- The Bill puts too much power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats to silence speech in the public square without transparency or accountability.
- The Bill includes a vague and ideological definition of “harm” which risks it being weaponised to shut down legitimate speech on pressing social issues.
- The Bill does not require mechanisms that will hold digital service providers liable for excessive and onerous policing of legitimate speech.
- The exclusion of government-authorised content from this censorship regime is hypocritical and inconsistent and will establish an asymmetry that results in one rule for government and another rule for Australians in what they can say.
- The Bill gives ACMA excessive powers to compel owners and private users of digital platforms to provide information and evidence about misinformation and disinformation that is a worrying breach of privacy.
- The Bill does not provide a sufficient standard of accountability and oversight for misuse of censorship powers.
- The few provisions that have been included to acknowledge the competing right to freedom of expression are tokenistic and do not satisfy the high bar required in international law for the interference with fundamental rights of freedom of expression.
- The severity of the penalties for failing to comply with the misinformation codes and standards and for failing to provide evidence requested by ACMA is excessive and will provide a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.
ACL have provided on this webpage, comprehensive information and tools to assist you in making an informed and impactful submission.
You can also access the exposure draft of the Bill, the guidance note for reading the Bill, and a short fact sheet on the Bill produced by the Albanese Government by clicking on this link and scrolling down.