New bill seeks to ban fake election propaganda

The reforms are not meant to curtail political expression and freedom of speech, the bill says

New bill seeks to ban fake election propaganda

A proposed bill in the House of Representatives aims to introduce electoral reforms to prohibit misleading and deceptive political advertising during Federal elections.

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Stop the Lies) Bill 2021 prohibits advertising that “contains a statement of fact” which is misleading or deceptive “to a material extent” or is “likely to deceive to a material extent.”

On its explanatory note, the bill said that fake advertisements and claims about candidates’ platforms had been distributed during elections. “The result of this has been an erosion of trust in political advertising and in politicians generally. In addition, it reduces the efficiency of electoral participation,” the bill said.

The reforms seek to curb technology that has made it easier to impersonate a candidate, such as “deep fakes.” A “deep fake” is a video of a person whose face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else. This kind of video has been reportedly used for malicious purposes and disinformation during campaigns, the bill said.

At present, a clause in the Commonwealth Electoral Act prohibits the publishing or distributing of material that is likely to mislead or deceive an elector concerning the casting of a vote. However, the judicial interpretation of this clause is said to “only cover the process of how to physically cast a vote, not the decision that leads to that vote,” the bill explained. Hence, the latter aims to address this gap in legislation.

The bill will also establish a complaints process through the Australian Electoral Commissioner. The latter will be empowered to order “a retraction of the statement and/or an apology to the effected party.” At the same time, a complaint can be pursued through the courts.

“Preventing misleading and deceptive political advertising is vital to a well-functioning democracy,” the bill said.

Zali Steggall OAM MP sponsored the bill, which was introduced and read for the first time in the House of Representatives on 25 October.

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