Free TV Australia chief executive Bridget Fair said digital platforms needed more regulation and the lobby group, which represents metropolitan and regional free-to-air broadcasters, supported any move to stop live streaming of terrorist events on social media, such as what happened with the Christchurch shooting last month, but the current bill was flawed.
“We also acknowledge the government has worked hard in good faith to limit the impact on Australian media in carefully crafting the scope of the offence and ensuring there is a defence for news reports,” Ms Fair said.
“However the bill allows for the possibility that journalists and media companies can be guilty of a criminal offence for reporting the news which is a serious concern. The intention of the bill is to address streaming/sharing of footage without editorial controls or standards not to criminalise news reporting. We think this aspect of the bill needs further consideration.”
News Corp, which is also majority owner of Foxtel, has been one of the most vocal critics of Facebook, Google and Twitter across the globe. It supports the intention of the legislation but is concerned about the timing.
“In the rush to pass this law it will not be subjected to any review. Given the known consequences of the legislation on news reporting we strongly recommend the government and the opposition agree that the bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Security on Intelligence and Security review this law immediately after the election,” a spokeswoman said.
The new laws have been developed after the alleged gunman live streamed the Christchurch mosque massacre of 50 worshippers on his Facebook page, where it was viewed about 4000 times before being removed.
While Facebook has promised to consider restricting live video broadcasts, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been unhappy with the industry’s response to stop their platforms being “weaponised”.
The draft laws define “abhorrent violent conduct” as terrorist acts where a victim is injured or killed, murder and attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping.
As well as social media companies, the laws target hosting websites that operate on the fringes of the internet like 8chan, where the alleged killer Brenton Tarrant posted his manifesto and promoted his Facebook page, and also capture internet service providers.
They will be required to notify the Australian Federal Police within a reasonable time once they become aware abhorrent horror material has occurred or is occurring within Australia and is being distributed on their platform, similar to current requirements for child pornography.
If a person providing a content or hosting service “recklessly” fails to remove material swiftly, they can face up to three years’ jail, while a body corporate could be fined up to 10 per cent of its global turnover.
Mr Porter rejected industry criticism the law was being legislated too hastily, saying Facebook’s actions were appalling and dangerous in allowing the massacre to be broadcast.
“I don’t think Australians want to wait around for it to happen again while we commission an Australian Law Reform Commission report over 18 months. This required immediate action,” he said.
Mr Porter rejected the need for a sunset clause on the legislation to give the industry time to implement changes.
“We’re not going to get behavioural change by a law that lasts for a year. We absolutely mean business on this issue,” he said,
Mr Dreyfus said Labor would not stand in the way of the bill despite serious concerns that the legislation had been poorly drafted and would not achieve its purpose. One concern is that a “person” does not actually provide a content or hosting service.
“The government’s bill has been so rushed that it fails to fulfil one of Scott Morrison’s key promises – there are no powers to jail social media executives. On the Prime Minister’s own measure, it is a failure. You have to wonder whether he’s even read it,” he said.
A Google spokeswoman said the company had zero tolerance for terrorist content on its platforms and it had invested heavily to try to remove it.
“We are committed to leading the way in developing new technologies and standards for identifying and removing terrorist content,” she said. “We are working with government agencies, law enforcement and across industry, including as a founding member of the Global Internet Forum To Counter Terrorism, to keep this type of content off our platforms. We will continue to engage on this crucial issue.”