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1 month ago
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher today voted against Labor’s motion to counter the harmful health misinformation being peddled by Coalition MP Craig Kelly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Fletcher currently has his Portfolio agency the ACMA working with digital platforms to develop a code on misinformation and news quality, yet today he voted against a motion affirming science and the independence of the TGA, as well as the responsibility of public office holders to counter misinformation and conspiracy theories.
It begs the question: how serious is Minister Fletcher when it comes to combatting misinformation?
As recently as 26 June 2020, Minister Fletcher issued a media release stating:

During COVID-19, we’ve seen firsthand the harm misinformation can cause as it spreads rapidly online. It can create public confusion, raise anxieties and erode trust in institutions, and this is particularly harmful to those most vulnerable in our community”.
Exhibit A is Craig Kelly’s harmful speech in Parliament this week in support of hydroxychloroquine, a drug identified as potentially harmful in treating COVID-19 by leading health authorities and strongly discouraged as a COVID-19 treatment by the TGA, the video of which is now circulating widely on social media.
The ACMA’s position paper classifies misinformation about health and safety as an “acute harm” stating that “misinformation about medical matters may directly threaten the health of anyone who acts on the information, and in the case of infectious disease, the health of others and public health systems”.

It is clear the Morrison Government isn’t serious about countering misinformation during COVID-19, or combatting what the UN Secretary-General and the WHO Director-General refer to as an “infodemic” that has included everything from dangerous health remedies to the nonsense that COVID-19 is somehow caused by 5G technology.

Not only does the Morrison Government shut down Parliamentary debate, they haven’t even bothered empowering the ACMA with a clear statutory role for dealing with misinformation and the voluntary misinformation code is still months away.

What’s more the Morrison Government is cutting funding to the public institution of the ABC which has a key role in promulgating trusted information, including through ABC RMIT Fact Check.
Minister Fletcher says that the development of a voluntary code is an important step in combatting misinformation on digital platforms. It would be refreshing to have a Morrison Government Minister whose actions matched their words.
Communications and the Arts