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Voice Architect Calls for Increased Media Efforts to Combat ‘Misinformation’

A prominent “Yes” campaigner behind constitutional change in Australia has called on media outlets to do more to stop “misinformation and disinformation” on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

On Oct. 14, Australians will go to the polls to decide whether to alter the preamble of the Constitution and to embed an advisory body to Parliament into the nation’s founding document.

Members of this advisory body will be elected by Indigenous people and have the power to make “representations” to the legislative and executive on all matters deemed relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

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An architect behind The Voice, Prof. Megan Davis, has warned that misinformation and disinformation are a “blight” on the integrity of elections.

“Some of the claims [about The Voice] are outright lies,” she told the University of Melbourne in late August. “Some of them are statements that misinform, ignore nuance, and aim to create confusion. Some of them have the veneer of legitimacy and are made by those who know better.”

Ms. Davis criticised numerous claims made by “No” campaigners about potential power overreach by the Indigenous Voice, including concerns it could be a “third chamber” in the Parliament.

“The Voice does not have the powers or the responsibilities of the House of Representatives or the Senate,” the professor said. “This claim is entirely inconsistent with The Voice itself. The suggestion that it is a chamber is a misreading of the proposed section at best and deliberate scaremongering at worst.”

Other concerns outlined in the No pamphlet to be distributed around Australia point to the High Court being needed to limit the power of The Voice and the body having enough power to block a future referendum to repeal it.

Ms. Davis said fact-checking organisations like RMIT could not stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation in the public domain. RMIT was recently dropped by tech giant Meta (owner of Facebook) after it received complaints about bias or unfairness regarding its work on The Voice.

“What will this country do if it wasn’t for those independent fact-checkers?” she said. “Because what we’re finding is mainstream media is a passive conduit of misinformation and disinformation, and no one is checking except for these external entities, and that shouldn’t be the way in which debate runs in this country.”

“Hours and hours have been spent debunking these claims with valuable resources being diverted to the task of investigating and responding to media queries,” said Ms. Davis.

“We as a campaign call on individual journalists, media, and social media outlets to cease facilitating misinformation and disinformation on The Voice.”

Yes Campaign and Labor Continue Push Against Mis, Disinformation

Her comments continue an ongoing campaign by Yes advocates, including the Labor government, to crack down on misinformation online.

Debate continues on Sept. 4 about the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill, which will give the media authority power to force social media platforms to regulate content online.

“Last year, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released research revealing that four out of five Australians had been exposed to misinformation about COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic,” federal MP Andrew Charlton told Parliament.

“Who knows how many lives could have been saved here in Australia and around the world if not for the scourge of misinformation.”

However, the federal opposition has argued against the new law saying it would disadvantage non-government entities and individuals while asking who had the right to define what was mis- or disinformation.

“The government has included some exceptions to this rule on free speech. One of the exceptions is for the Albanese government itself. Anything the Albanese government authorises cannot be misinformation under the Bill but criticisms of the Albanese government can be misinformation,” said Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman.

“Anything that an academic says cannot be misinformation, but criticisms of that academic can be misinformation,” he told Parliament.

Nick Spencer contributed to this article.

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