“Throwing media executives in jail will increase costs to taxpayers without improving community safety or addressing concerns about violent content being shared on social media platforms,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.
On 3 April, the Senate passed a government-backed Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 that will create criminal penalties and massive fines for media companies that allow users to share material created by terrorists and other violent criminals during the commission of their crimes. Media executives will be personally liable for material disseminated on media platforms. They will face prison sentences of up to three years if they are proved to have recklessly failed to remove abhorrent violent material quickly enough, or notify the Australian Federal Police quickly enough.
“This is a blatant attack on the freedom of the media to report on matters of public interest and goes well beyond what would be necessary to achieve the stated goal,” said Mr Bushnell.
“The main function of prison is to take dangerous criminals off our streets. Media executives do not meet this standard.”
The IPA has joined with various civil society groups already voicing their concerns about the bill’s effect on freedom of speech and justice. It is bizarre that the Opposition, in deciding to wave through the bill, only noted with dismay that it did not go far enough in threatening executives with jail.
“Incarceration in Australia is already at a record high and growing quickly. We do not need to be thinking of new reasons for locking up non-dangerous people,” said Mr Bushnell.
Australia’s incarceration rate in 2018 was 222 per 100,000 adults, a figure which has risen 30 per cent in the last ten years. There are more than 40,000 people in Australian prisons. Jailing low risk, non-violent offenders such as media executives will exacerbate this problem and add costs to taxpayers.
“Using the criminal law for an ostensibly regulatory purpose runs the risk of over-deterrence. Companies and executives may respond to the threat of criminal penalties by erring on the side of censorship.”
“The potential chilling effect of this law represents a threat to the freedom of speech of all Australians,” said Mr Bushnell.For media and comment: Evan Mulholland, Director of Communications, on 0405 140 780, or at [email protected]