New powers target media misinformation

Australia's media watchdog will have stronger powers to target the growing spread of misinformation and disinformation.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will get information-gathering and record-keeping powers in a federal government effort to create transparency around major platforms' efforts to combat misinformation.

It will also create an enforceable industry code to replace the voluntary code platforms have signed up to.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the powers would be similar to those the watchdog already had to regulate telecommunications and broadcasting services.

"It is a co-regulatory structure that is well established in Australia and has served consumers well ... the government considers it's high time we had a similar system applying in the online space," she told ABC TV.

"The key here always is about keeping Australians safe and we know unfortunately misinformation has the potential to cause great harms, including harms to social order and threats to our democracy."

The focus won't be on individual posters but on systemic issues across platforms.

Ms Rowland said tech giants such as Twitter and Facebook needed more than a voluntary code to keep Australians safe.

"The technologies employed by the digital platforms are varied," she said.

"They include artificial intelligence, consumer complaints but again, we need to make sure that all of those elements are working properly.

"It's time we empower the regulator to ensure the platforms do what they say they're going to do under this code."

Australia's Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), whose members include Google, Meta, Twitter and TikTok, "broadly welcomed" the greater oversight powers being given to the ACMA.

"These powers would enable the ACMA to have a longer-term mandate to oversee The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, which DIGI developed and administered, DIGI Managing Director Sunita Bose said in a statement.

"DIGI is committed to driving improvements in the management of mis- and disinformation in Australia, demonstrated through our track record of work with signatory companies to develop and strengthen the industry code."