“Simply putting that exclusion in there for professional news content would not, of itself, protect professional news services from having their content effectively censored in the process of these social media companies seeking to fulfil their obligations that are being imposed on them by the government,” Twomey said.
Free TV also echoed concerns by the Australian Human Rights Commission and other legal experts that the bill proposed a too-broad definition of “harm” in determining misinformation and disinformation.
It argued the threshold of harm – defined in the proposed laws as including “harm to the health of Australians” and “disruption of public order” – would have “the unintended effect of restricting freedom of expression on government and political matters, and has the potential for misuse to restrict debate on topics related to health, the environment and the economy”.
Under the government’s proposed laws, ACMA will have a range of new powers including the ability to impose an industry-wide “standard” to force digital platforms to remove misinformation and disinformation. This would be enforceable with fines up to $6.88 million, or 5 per cent of a company’s global turnover – whichever is higher.
Free TV called for a wholesale exclusion of all free-to-air content from the proposed laws. The Greens, who could be decisive in whether the laws pass the Senate, have signalled they will push in the other direction for the exemption for news content to be scrapped, citing News Corp as a cause for concern.
The Coalition’s communications spokesman David Coleman said it was concerning that the content of Australian broadcasters may be censored, labelling the bill “both farcical and a dangerous attack on freedom of expression” and called for it to be withdrawn.
Asked about the criticism of the bill at a press conference on Saturday, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said she would consider the feedback provided through the consultation process to “ensure that we get this balance right”.
“We know that today it is those digital platforms, big tech, that are making decisions every day with a lack of transparency with a voluntary code, which has independently been found to be lacking,” she said.
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