DIGI welcomes release of ACMA report on Mis/Disinformation Code and supports its five key recommendations

MEDIA RELEASE 21.03.2022: The Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) welcomes the Government’s release of and response to the ACMA’s June 2021 report assessing The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, and supports the ACMA’s five key recommendations in principle.

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 mis- and 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.”

As the ACMA’s report was provided to the Government in June 2021, its assessment pre-dates DIGI’s announcement in October 2021 about the code’s governance arrangements. Since the report was written, DIGI has already strengthened the code with an independent complaints committee to resolve complaints about possible breaches by signatories of their code commitments, and introduced a portal on its website for the public to raise such complaints. The independent members of that committee are Dr Anne Kruger, Victoria Rubensohn AM and Christopher Zinn.

DIGI will continue to strengthen the code in 2022 by introducing guidelines to drive improvements and consistency in the next set of signatories’ annual transparency reports. DIGI has also appointed an independent reviewer Hal Crawford who will verify all signatories’ transparency reports prior to publication.

As well as considering the ACMA’s report and stakeholder views, DIGI’s code review will take into account the revised European Union Disinformation Code which is expected by the end of March – the only comparable code globally, which is focused on disinformation and with opt-in commitments only – as well as the next set of signatory’s transparency annual reports due in late May.

DIGI’s response to the ACMA’s five recommendations to the Government in its report

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

DIGI agrees with this recommendation, and will consider the findings of the report when reviewing the code.
DIGI’s review will also take into account the evolution of the European Union Disinformation Code which is expected by the end of March, as well as the next set of signatories’ transparency annual reports which are due for publication in late May.

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.

DIGI agrees with this recommendation, and encourages the ACMA to reflect the second set of signatory transparency reports in this report, which are due for publication in late May.

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.

DIGI agrees that the ACMA’s powers need to be strengthened in relation to the code. For example, as we highlighted in our recent submission to the Online Safety and Social Media Inquiry, DIGI has asked the Government if the ACMA could be afforded powers to provide an appeals mechanism in the event of disagreements in the final outcomes of complaints raised through DIGI’s complaints portal.
DIGI will consider the recommendations on record keeping and consider how these could be incorporated in the code through the review, and looks forward to working with the ACMA to identify opportunities for improved data quality. DIGI’s independent reviewer Hal Crawford – who will verify all signatories’ transparency reports prior to publication – has also produced guidelines to drive improvements and consistency in the next set of annual transparency reports, including in relation to the data provided.

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.

DIGI agrees in principle with the expansion of the ACMA’s powers in this area, though we hope to work constructively with the ACMA, stakeholders, signatories and potential signatories on the continued strengthening of the code.
DIGI would support a framework where the ACMA has oversight over misinformation and disinformation across all forms of media.

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.

DIGI agrees with this recommendation and would hope to play an active role in the group to assist in its success.

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation was developed in response to the Australian Government policy announced in December 2019, in response to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry, where the digital industry was asked to develop a voluntary code of practice on disinformation. DIGI developed it with assistance from the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition, and First Draft, a global organisation that specialises in helping societies overcome false and misleading information.

Mandatory code commitments include publishing & implementing policies on misinformation and disinformation, providing users with a way to report content against those policies and implementing a range of scalable measures that reduce its spread & visibility (Mandatory commitment #1). Every signatory has agreed to annual transparency reports about those efforts to improve understanding of both the management and scale of mis- and disinformation in Australia (Mandatory commitment #7).

Additionally, there are a series of opt-in commitments that platforms adopt if relevant to their business model: (Commitment #2) Addressing disinformation in paid content; (#3) addressing fake bots and accounts; (#4) transparency about source of content in news and factual information (e.g. promotion of media literacy, partnerships with fact-checkers) and (#5) political advertising; and (#6) partnering with universities/researchers to improve understanding of mis and disinformation.

DIGI is a non-profit industry association that advocates for the interests of the digital industry in Australia. DIGI’s vision is a thriving Australian digitally-enabled economy that fosters innovation, a growing selection of digital products and services, and where online safety and privacy are protected.

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