Australia will consider 'other measures' if voluntary misinformation code fails

Minister will watch the industry initiative to see its effectiveness in combatting the spread of harmful disinformation online and determine if 'further action' is required after the release of an ACMA report that is due mid-year.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has signalled the government's intentions to watch the voluntary code of practice, which aims to stem disinformation on digital platforms that operate in Australia.

The code was prepared by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DiGi), a non-profit industry association advocating for the digital industry in Australia.

It comes in response to the Australian government asking the digital industry in December 2019 to develop a code in response to policy as set out in Regulating in the Digital Age: Government Response and Implementation Roadmap for the Digital Platforms Inquiry. DiGi volunteered to develop the draft for the industry.

All signatories -- Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok, and Twitter -- have committed to the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation. They have also committed to releasing an annual transparency report about their efforts under the code.

Speaking on Tuesday at a press conference on Facebook restoring news back to its platform in Australia, Fletcher said the code being voluntary reflects a recommendation from the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry.

"We've made it plain that we will review the performance, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will report to me in the middle of the year on performance, we've also made it plain if we don't see that code working, we'll certainly consider other measures," Fletcher said.

"[The] government will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective in providing safeguards against the serious harms that arise from the spread of disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms."

In a statement, the minister said ACMA will report to him no later than 30 June 2021 on initial compliance with the code and its effectiveness.

"I look forward to receiving ACMA's feedback, which will guide us on whether further action is needed," Fletcher said.

The code provides seven guiding principles, such as protecting freedom of expression, empowering users, and keeping the privacy of users at the forefront.

The News Media Bargaining Code, which is currently under debate before the Senate, was initially intended to be voluntary, but according to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, it was clear the code needed to be mandatory, as "deals could not be struck that would see the digital platforms pay for original, journalistic content".

No draft media codes were published, like the one from DiGi, however.


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