The intended disinformation bill is an attack on the right to have a voice

Contributed by Jim Hayes

The Federal government has been working on a new law that will effectively restrict our right to speak out and state our views. This is good reason to oppose it and encourage a broadly united campaign to ensure that it fails.

The Liberal Party is currently stating its opposition, although much of what it contains has come from its own previous Morrison government. but political opportunism now demands a show of opposition. And the Liberals seek to appeal to the ultra-fringe critical worried that it may apply to themselves. It’s still better that they oppose than to give their blessing. But don’t expect a genuine change of heart.

Photo by William West/AFP/Getty: Former Prime Minister Scot Morrison was the originator of the move towards the new law

The concept carried on by the Albanese government is now about ready to become a reality under the name of the Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation bill, which will amend the Australian Broadcasting Services Act to empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to punish digital platforms for allowing misinformation an disinformation online.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says the new law will give ACMA “new information gathering and record keeping power…” In other words, ACMA will become another spy organisation to keep tabs on the views of organisations and individuals, which may then be used to silence them.

Michelle Rowland, Australia’s Minister for Communications

An important drawback is that the suppression of views is only for internet platforms. Other media escapes attention. Take the Murdoch controlled News Corporation media. It’s dominant in Australia and has a history of being the number one promoter of the politics of hate, promoter of attacks on vulnerable communities, and manufacturer and promoter of deliberate falsehoods. Murdoch will not be subjected to the new law.

Those within what is broadly described at the political left who have called for the suppression of what they consider right wing views should take greater care about what they wish for. The reality is that the authority to decide what is misinformation and disinformation will ultimately be left in the hands of the political elite depending on the patronage of big business. Decisions made will be influenced by whether an opinion runs for or against the interests of the patrons.

Huma rights and legal group have condemned the proposed new law. This includes the Huan Rights Commission and the Australian Law Council. They are especially concerned about definitions that are so broad that they could apply to anything. This means an inbuilt flexibility, which leaves the door open to abuse.  

The inevitable targets will be opponents of a given government’s policies and actions.

Terms like “harm to the health of Australians” and “harm to the Australian environment,” are meaningless. What is needed are clear and precise definitions like aimed at causing deliberate physical harm to certain individuals or a defined community, and views aimed at promoting inequality. Deliberate government omission of crucial information and falsehoods should also be targeted.

In a climate where most people no longer trust the political elite or the political institutions in which they operate, the tendency to rely less on winning support and more on coercion has been growing. The temptation will be to use this law against opposition to their polices and impose the boundaries within which discussion on key issues will be tolerated.

If the objective is truly to target those who bring real harm, the effort would not just aim at digital platforms. It would take on all media. It would focus on ending private monopoly control, and apply the law against deliberate misrepresentation, and especially that which does not allow harm to individuals and vilifies certain communities.

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