Industry responds to ACMA report on mis/disinformation Code

The industry has responded to Government’s release and response to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) report assessing The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation earlier today.

The report was commissioned in June 2021, following the development of the Code by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) under the supervision of ACMA, created as a voluntary code of practice based on the recommendations of the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry.

The report, though release publicly today, was first provided to the Government in June 2021, predating DIGI’s announcement of the Code’s governance arrangements in October 2021. Since then, DIGI has strengthened the Code with an independent complaints committee to resolve complaints of possible breaches by signatories and has introduced a portal on its websites for the public to raise such complaints.

The five recommendations outlined by ACMA in their report are as follows:

Recommendation 1: The government should encourage DIGI to consider the findings in this report when reviewing the code in February 2022.

Recommendation 2: The ACMA will continue to oversee the operation of the code and should report to government on its effectiveness no later than the end of the 2022-23 financial year. The ACMA should also continue to undertake relevant research to inform government on the state of disinformation and misinformation in Australia.

Recommendation 3: To incentivise greater transparency, the ACMA should be provided with formal information-gathering powers (including powers to make record keeping rules) to oversee digital platforms, including the ability to request Australia-specific data on the effectiveness of measures to address disinformation and misinformation.

Recommendation 4: The government should provide the ACMA with reserve powers to register industry codes, enforce industry code compliance, and make standards relating to the activities of digital platforms’ corporations. These powers would provide a mechanism for further intervention if code administration arrangements prove inadequate, or the voluntary industry code fails.

Recommendation 5: In addition to existing monitoring capabilities, the government should consider establishing a Misinformation and Disinformation Action Group to support collaboration and information-sharing between digital platforms, government agencies, researchers and NGOs on issues relating to disinformation and misinformation.

On the release of the report today, DIGI managing director, Sunita Bose said: “DIGI welcomes the release of the ACMA’s assessment of The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, as this report will be a critical tool in our efforts to strengthen the code and maximise its effectiveness in addressing misand disinformation online in Australia.”

“DIGI supports the ACMA’s five key recommendations in principle and we look forward to further work with the Government on the details.”

“We’ll be closely reviewing the report’s findings, as part of DIGI’s planned review of the code, where we intend to proactively invite views from the public, civil society and Government about how it can be improved.”

In relation to recommendation 1, DIGI noted that its review of the Code will also take into consideration the evolution of the comparable European Union Disinformation Code, which is expected by the end of March, as well as the next set of signatories’ transparency annual reports, due for publication in late May.

Across all recommendations, DIGI agreed that the powers of ACMA should be expanded , however, the organisation did hope that it could work actively with ACMA as well as stakeholders and signatories to continue strengthening the Code.

Google senior manager of government affairs and public policy, Samantha Yorke, also commented on the report:

“We were a founding signatory to the Code because we believe disinformation and misinformation needs to be addressed, as it can harm Australians and undermines our business to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

As the report details, we’ve signed up to all outcomes under the Code, invested in local initiatives, and provided millions in funding to assist governments and health agencies in delivering important health information via ads and prominent placement across Search and YouTube. We also blocked or removed more than 11,000 coronavirus-related ads from Australian-based advertisers for policy violations, and blocked more than 102,000 creatives from Australian-based advertisers for violating our misrepresentation ads policy.

We are continuing our efforts to address misinformation and disinformation. Currently, we are preparing our next report under the Code and will work to address ACMA’s suggestions.”

The next set of signatories’ annual transparency reports for The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation are due for publication in late May, which DIGI hopes will provide more clarity around the management and scale of mis-and-disinformation in Australia.


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