Thursday, 04 April 2019

6PR Mornings with Jane Marwick



Subjects: social media laws

JANE MARWICK: Well we heard from Free TV Australia earlier in the program about the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Bill designed to prevent another terrorist attack from being live streamed online. No one's arguing with that but traditional media is saying legitimate Australian news outlets already have extensive editorial processes and standards in place and should be exempt from the scope of these laws. Well that Bill has passed through; it passed through the Senate last night, through the House of Reps this morning. Christian Porter is the Federal Attorney General and joins me now. Christian Porter good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Jane, good morning to you.

JANE MARWICK: Now Christian we have seen quite a bit of pushback today from more traditional media organisations and my guess is now that that Bill has passed is it now an Act? Now that it's gone through the house.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it'll be ascended to by the Governor-General in the very near future and it will become the law of the land. Yes, so it will have to be abided by all people who have what are known as content servers or hosting services. So the way in which that would apply to traditional media, if you like, is that often large media organisations whether they're newspapers or television stations will have web pages where they can play footage. Rarely do they live stream footage but of course they play footage, and those web pages will be subject to the same laws as Facebook and Twitter and YouTube.

JANE MARWICK: Even radio stations. We have a web page here too. I suppose we could get caught up in that Christian?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well Jane, your radio station does have a web page but to my knowledge you have never, nor would you ever contemplate live streaming or playing…


CHRISTIAN PORTER: …the violet act of murder…

JANE MARWICK: [Talks over] Never. No.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: …or, and kidnapping or torture. And keep in mind that the Abhorrent Violent Material is defined not only by its ultra-violent nature - torture, kidnapping, murder, terrorism - but by the fact that the footage has to emanate from the perpetrator themselves. So this is a narrow law, an important one, but a narrow law designed to deal with the narrow but terrible circumstances that we had post-Christchurch where Facebook for well over an hour allowed the live streaming and replaying of the most astonishing and shocking violence on its platform without really doing anything to take it down.

JANE MARWICK: Yeah. Now I understand and everyone was absolutely appalled. There's lots of questions around this though. Firstly when we were talking to Free TV today they were saying they abide by their own codes, their own laws. What if a TV station replays that footage even if it's edited?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it depends on the editing. What they couldn't show is the actual acts of violence. Now, I mean, of course, TV stations showed some of the preparatory images - the perpetrator in the car and so forth - and that's the sort of acceptable thing that we would expect. But no one in Australia would accept that a 10 year old child should be able to put on the nightly news at 6 o'clock…


CHRISTIAN PORTER: …and see murder.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: And they never do. Which is why I think this is free to air television concern is not a particularly warranted concern in those circumstances because I can't ever conceive of a situation where mainstream media would play this sort of footage that Facebook hosted after Christchurch. I mean, unfortunately, I've had to watch this footage for the purposes of my job and it is the most astonishingly violent and terrifying thing anyone could possibly see. And the fact is that a 10 year old could have logged on for well over an hour and seen it. And in fact the longer it stays on a platform like Facebook the more it gets passed on, shared around, becomes viral and becomes very hard….

JANE MARWICK: Yeah shared. Yeah. Downloaded. Yep. Yep.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So look I- we, we've-

JANE MARWICK: I understand that.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Obviously we've acted urgently and we've done that in a way that we've taken into account the concerns of traditional media in Australia. But traditional media in Australia won't be in breach of this law.

JANE MARWICK: Okay. What if- I had a really good caller who said: this shouldn't just be about the platforms, what about the people sharing it? It will move on to the dark web, there's no doubt about it. What happens to them?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well the sharing and on-sharing - and keep in mind that I think the figures were that this video was stopped by Google in one point five million occasions but it appears that at least one point two million people watched part of the video on, on Google as a platform. Now why people would want to do that I just - I can't rationally explain to you and they shouldn't be passing it on. But this law doesn't deal with that problem. It's not to acknowledge that it isn't a problem but that is clearly something that we're going to, and any government is going to, have to deal with. But this deals with the immediate problem of the actual hosting service itself playing it and being utterly reckless to the fact that it's on their service and thereby not acting quickly to take it down.

JANE MARWICK: Look, I think we're all appalled. I reckon-

CHRISTIAN PORTER: It's not meant to solve every problem in ….

JANE MARWICK: Yeah I hear you. And look…

CHRISTIAN PORTER: …but it's meant to solve the key problems.

JANE MARWICK: And we're on a unity ticket. I don't know anyone who thinks it was okay. I don't know anyone who thinks that what happened with the Christchurch massacre was okay. I'm just reading- and I've seen lots of media organisations saying that they have some reservations. NewsCorp says: in the rush to pass this law, it will not be subjected to any review.

I'm always worried, Christian, when I see things rushed through. I understand, particularly with the limitations - an election to be called - but NewsCorp is saying: given the known consequences of the legislation on news reporting, we strongly recommended that the Government and Opposition agree that the bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security review this law immediately after the election. Is that something you'd support?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think we are going to - in fact we spoke about today reviewing it. We'll probably use a Senate committee who's expert in communications matters as well as legal matters to review it and of course, it needs to be reviewed. That's good practice. And I think part of that Senate committee is also going to have to look into the broader issues around social media and what gets provided as content. The terrible instances we've seen recently with Tayla Harris, the …


CHRISTIAN PORTER: … women's AFL footballer. I mean, these are issues that governments are trying to deal with, but they will take some time to sort through. So, yes, it will be reviewed in the appropriate way by a Senate committee who is expert in communications matters as well as legal matters, and that review will look more broadly into the role of social media and particularly content and hosting services.

But I think Australians just wanted us to act urgently to fix the problem, and the problem was that there was no legal recourse against Facebook's demonstrative and terrible failure to recognise that it was carrying this material and then take it down quickly. And in fact, additionally, 8chan, this shocking content service that operates overseas, they were asked by the New Zealand Police to take it down and they basically told the New Zealand Government, Police to get stuffed.

Now, we think that there should be a recourse against any platform that actually deliberately kept playing and hosting this type of material, and we think there should be a legal recourse against the platform who is just utterly reckless to the fact that they are hosting the material. And you know-

JANE MARWICK: So will you have international reach in that case, when you're talking about New Zealand Police? Will you be able- or will this just be within Australia's borders? How will that work?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Sure. So, prosecuting a company who operates in Australia but is based overseas for a breach of Australian law is not always a simple thing, but it's not an irregular thing. I mean, it happens with some regularity. So, multinational companies, whether they're based in Shanghai or San Francisco, have to obey Australian law when they operate in Australia. So, if this were repeated and that type of Christchurch footage were played in Australia by Facebook or any other platform and they were reckless as to the fact that they were playing it and they didn't make efforts to expeditiously remove it, they'd be breaching Australian law and we would, depending on whatever the circumstances were, prosecute the company or the individuals. Now, when the company is based overseas, that's sometimes a challenging process, but that's not a reason to not make foreign companies abide by Australia's laws.

Of course, the PM will take these laws and these issues to the G20. Ultimately, a global response on this type of issue and other important issues around social media and bullying and cyberbullying and all of the things that are negatives about social media, acknowledging that there are many positives, these things are to be dealt with globally but we weren't prepared to wait for …


CHRISTIAN PORTER: … an outcome that might be years down the track when we've seen the situation arise as it did in Christchurch.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: And we considered that we as a government wouldn't have any recourse against a platform that was totally reckless to playing that footage so that 10-year-olds could log on and see it.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: It's just not good enough. Totally unacceptable.

JANE MARWICK: I hear you loud and clear. Yeah, you're right. We've run out of time. I did want to know- the Law Council - I just want to put this on the record - they say, in this case, this legislation could silence whistle-blowers trying to bring attention to violent atrocities occurring overseas. Just a yes or no from you - could that happen?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No. I mean, there are defences in respect of the offences which would mean that journalists in the public interest could report matters.

JANE MARWICK: But what about people who aren't journalists - whistle-blowers?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Again, so, the defences in all of this are that if it's necessary for law enforcement for the material to be aired, then that's a defence, which you would imagine if a whistle-blower was trying to blow the whistle on murder, kidnapping, torture, or rape, it would be in the interests of law enforcement …


CHRISTIAN PORTER: … that the matter be aired. So, look, there are defences that acknowledge some circumstances where it might be very rare, that you might need to have this footage aired. So …

JANE MARWICK: Okay. I have to cut you off.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: … that is an overstatement from the Law Council.

JANE MARWICK: Okay. Thank you very much. Thanks, Christian Porter. The federal Attorney-General there.