‘Countering disinformation – OSCE and Indo-Pacific perspectives’
Delivered by H.E. Richard Sadleir, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Australian Permanent Mission
23 September 2022
Thank you, Ambassador Vrang.
I would also like to particularly thank you [Ambassador Vrang] for co-hosting today’s meeting alongside Australia in your capacity as Chair of the OSCE Asian Partners for Cooperation Group. We are pleased to welcome you to your new role. It is a privilege to work with you, and we look forward to our continued excellent cooperation with Sweden as you take on this position following Ambassador Funered’s successful tenure.
I am also pleased to welcome the participation of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Ms. Teresa Ribeiro, in our discussions today. We look forward to hearing more about your office’s important work as it relates to our thematic topic: countering disinformation.
I also express our thanks to the two keynote speakers, Katherine Mansted and Patrik Oksanen, who come to our discussion today with valuable insights and expertise. We are grateful to the two of you for travelling, from Australia and Sweden respectively, to be with us in person today.
We recognise that the OSCE remains a key platform for dialogue and cooperation against a backdrop of complex transnational and global threats and challenges. Australia is proud to play a role in the OSCE’s work as a member of the Asian Partners for Cooperation Group. We value the opportunity to work with others in bringing an Indo‑Pacific perspective to the deliberations of the OSCE.
This body forms a critical part of the international rules-based order, an order which is under increasing strain. Australia is concerned that some states continue to act in ways that are inconsistent with international law and established norms. One of the challenges facing us at this moment is the efficacy of disinformation in an increasingly interconnected world.
We therefore are pleased that the focus of today’s thematic session is on countering disinformation, and are proud to be co-hosting this forum for discussion. Ensuring democratic resilience, building the foundations for inclusive societies, and addressing the root causes of conflict is critical to preventing and resolving conflict.
We all understand that disinformation and foreign interference remain a serious threat to the security, prosperity and sovereignty of Australia and all our global partners. Disinformation erodes trust in the processes and institutions central to open, democratic societies and undermines social cohesion and the rules, norms and principles embodied in international organisations such as the OSCE.
We recognise that healthy, vibrant, democratic institutions, including freedom of the press, are essential to building national resilience and ensuring social cohesion. Protecting the trust in, and the strength of, these institutions is critical to build our collective resilience.
Disinformation, in particular state-sponsored efforts at disinformation, undermines the international rules that promote a peaceful, stable, and prosperous world order where sovereignty is respected. This, regretfully, we have seen demonstrated so starkly in Russia’s illegal, immoral invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine continues to undermine multilateral efforts to build peace and resolve conflict. Regrettably, disinformation has been deployed by Russia as part of its toolkit of actions against Ukraine.
As colleagues have already noted here today – and will undoubtedly continue to reference throughout proceedings – Russia’s war against Ukraine demonstrates the critical importance of strengthening international cooperation and upholding international law.
As part of our sanctions regime against Russia for its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, Australia specifically recognises the detrimental impacts of disinformation in this context. We currently have targeted sanctions on 43 persons and 12 entities with key roles in Russian disinformation efforts, including the spokespeople for President Putin and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as 'troll farms' that spread disinformation online.
We should also note that disinformation is not the sole preserve of European conflicts. In our own region, the Indo-Pacific, we face a number of challenges on this front – to which Australia has responded with robust legislative changes and protections.
Australia values collaboration with friends and partners in the international community to build consensus against disinformation. We recognize that sharing ideas on best practice to counter disinformation is essential if we are to succeed.
As I mentioned before, Australia has a suite of legislation to strengthen Australia’s ability to promote transparency and prevent and defend against disinformation. One such example is the new Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation – an industry initiative overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Launched in February 2021, the Code commits industry signatories to take action to reduce the impact of harmful disinformation and misinformation on their services. Eight platforms have signed the Code to date: Adobe, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter.
It is through cooperation and collaboration such as this, between governments and private entities, both internationally and domestically, that we are able to tackle some of the challenges presented by disinformation in the internet age.
It is clear that we must defend against disinformation and other coercive measures that can undermine international peace and security, and interfere in democratic systems. If left unaddressed, these coercive tools can erode citizen confidence in institutions, electoral systems and information environments. We look forward to a productive and robust exchange of views on countering disinformation: a transnational challenge that is shared across regions, in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific.