Fact-Checking Bodies’ Bias: Expert Warns of Danger in Labor’s Misinformation Laws

8 April 2024

2.2 MINS

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 has been introduced into the Australian Parliament for discussion. The responsibility for administering the proposed bill is vested in the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which is a statutory authority of the Commonwealth Government.

The proposed powers are designed to encourage digital platform services to be accountable for improving and implementing measures to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. The Bill is not intended to censor individuals, but rather social media platforms and public communications.

On its website, the ACMA recommends that consumers check the veracity of online content with reliable fact-checkers such as AAP Fact-Check, RMIT FactLab, and RMIT ABC Fact Check.

Fact-checking is designed to determine the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in public debate.

In the video below, John Storey, Director of Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs, talks to IPA Executive Director Scott Hargreaves about the issue of free speech and fact-checking bias.

Checking the Checkers

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is a conservative, non-profit, free-market public policy think tank, based in Melbourne. It recently published research on whether the fact-checkers themselves exhibited political bias.

Their published research investigated 970 fact-check articles dating back to 2019 and established the following facts:

  • 65 per cent of fact-checking of claims by political figures delivered verdicts favourable to left-of-centre politicians. Just 35 per cent could be assessed as favourable to right-of-centre politicians.
  • 94 per cent (502 of 534) of fact-checking investigations relating to COVID-19 matters targeted critics of the official response to the pandemic.
  • 81 per cent (124 of 153) of fact-checking investigations relating to climate change and energy policy targeted critics.
  • Almost none of the controversial claims made by activists, such as predictions of imminent catastrophe, have been investigated by the fact-checkers.

John Storey, Director of Law and Policy at the IPA, conducted this research. He said, “Under the federal government’s proposed laws, fact-checking bodies will be given enormous weight to determine what social media companies censor in order to avoid fines that can potentially range into the millions of dollars.”

Fact-checkers around the world can be accredited to the “International Fact-Checking Network’ whose signatories commit to “non-partisanship and fairness” and to “not concentrate their fact-checking unduly on only one side.”

The IPA’s research shows Australian fact-checkers are clearly not adhering to these principles and cannot be relied on as arbiters of truth. Instead they are themselves subject to activists influence pushing their own political agendas.

The IPA points out that the federal government’s bill will create fact-checkers empowered by law to censor online opinion to the satisfaction of an opaque government body or the Minister herself.

The current findings were consistent with earlier research by the IPA into the Voice referendum campaign which showed of the 187 claims fact-checkers investigated, 170 of them, or 91 per cent, targeted those favouring the ‘No’ case.

Mr Storey noted: “It is clear these organisations are empowered to determine what is misinformation. It will only censor critics of official government policies and the centre-right.”

It is further revealed that a letter from the Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, to the Prime Minister indicates the Minister ‘expects that third-party fact-checkers will enforce censorship under the government’s proposed misinformation laws.’

Mr Storey concludes: “The government’s proposed misinformation and disinformation laws are the single biggest attack on freedom of speech in Australia’s peacetime history and have no place in a liberal democracy such as Australia.”


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

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  1. Warwick Marsh 8 April 2024 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Great news story!!!!!!!

  2. Joshua M 8 April 2024 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    Great article, truly revolting bill as bad as the idea of censoring speech.

    The idea of censoring businesses frustrates me as much as individuals. Businesses have a right to do trade and complying with censor/censure requests is expensive and legally problematic, as well as completely denying a businesses right to pass on the freedom of speech of its patrons – by not limiting their speech.

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