Australia announced on Monday that it plans to expand the powers of its media watchdog to crackdown on so-called ‘online misinformation’ ahead of the country’s federal election.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said the government would provide it with “new powers to combat harmful disinformation and misinformation.”
Under its extended powers, the ACMA will be able to hold companies to account for facilitating the spread of content deemed to be misinformation, and will also be able to force companies to provide internal data on their response to such content.
It comes after a June report made public on Monday found that Australians exposed to such content had “lower levels of trust” in government officials and “other authoritative sources.”
“The propagation of falsehoods and conspiracies undermines public health efforts, impacts businesses, causes harm to democratic institutions, and in some cases, incites individuals to carry out acts of violence,” ACMA claimed, before announcing that the government had agreed to its recommendations that the authority “be granted new regulatory powers.”
“These powers include information gathering and reserve code-making powers,” it revealed.
The announcement was made just months ahead of Australia’s next federal election, which is due to be held before May 21. The exact date of the election has not yet been chosen. Recent polls have shown Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ruling Liberal Party lagging behind the opposition Labor Party.
ACMA’s announcement was also made just days after the Liberal Party was defeated in the South Australian state election. South Australia’s incumbent Premier Steven Marshall – a member of the Liberal Party and an ally of Morrison – was replaced by opposition leader Peter Malinauskas.
In a report conducted between 2020 and 2021, ACMA allegedly discovered that four in five Australians had been exposed to “misinformation about Covid-19” and that those exposed were subsequently less likely to trust government officials.
The report also claimed that Australians who had been exposed to “misinformation” were more likely to share links to “less reliable online news sources” instead of “mainstream” outlets such as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News.
The new powers will be discussed over the next few weeks and the changes are reportedly expected to be introduced in the Australian parliament later this year.