Monday, February 22, 2021

Covid Medical Network doctors issued with cease and desist by Therapeutic Goods Administration

A group of Melbourne doctors critical of the Andrews government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic have been hit with a “cease and desist” notice from the nation’s medical goods regulator.

The Covid Medical Network (CMN) – which has labelled the banning of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as an early coronavirus treatment option “unwarranted” – received the notice from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The CMN, which is based in Melbourne, has also raised doubts over the use of PCR tests, as they only give a positive or negative result rather than how infectious someone is.

The group has also claimed prolonged mask use could be harmful to someone’s health.

The Covid Medical Network confirmed on its website that it had received a formal “cease and desist” letter from the TGA to take down the “Early Treatments” section from its website.

“They have construed the information to be a form of advertising,” the doctors said.

“We are currently consulting with our lawyers and the TGA regarding how best to provide the information in a manner that would not reasonably be construed as advertising the medications associated with the safe and effective treatment of early COVID illness.”

The network also has a disclaimer on its website that advises people that any medical information is “merely information – not advice”.

It says the information on its website was for “educational purposes only” and should not be “construed in any way … (as) providing medical advice, promoting or advertising medications such as Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, Azithromycin and Doxycycline”.

“Research into potential treatments and preventatives for COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving space and there is a genuine need to keep consumers informed of research and advances in a balanced and measured way,” the doctors said.

The group of senior medical doctors and health professionals was formed during Victoria’s second crippling lockdown due to concerns over the health impacts of lockdowns in response to coronavirus outbreaks in Victoria and Australia.

They claimed at the time the Victorian government’s response to the pandemic was “doing more harm than good”.

“Many Australian doctors and other health professionals consider the lockdown measures to be disproportionate, not scientifically based and the cause of widespread suffering for many Victorians,” the doctors said.

A spokesperson for TGA noted it is an offence under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 to advertise prescription medicines to Australian consumers.

“The website ... is under review for compliance with the advertising requirements of the Act,” the spokesman said in a statement to NCA NewsWire.

“The TGA issued a warning letter requiring action on February 12. Significant changes have been made to the website and Facebook account.

“Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not approved in Australia or by comparable regulators for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

“The safety and effectiveness of these medicines for COVID-19 has not been established, and the use of unapproved treatments may cause serious adverse events, or inappropriately delay patients seeking definitive clinical care.

“The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce, consisting of a large group of independent Australian clinical experts, is continuously updating treatment recommendations based on the best available evidence.

“They are currently not recommending the use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment or prevention, outside of properly conducted clinical trials with appropriate ethical approval.”


Facebook, Google, Twitter release industry code to fight spread of disinformation

Tech companies including Facebook and Google have released the final version of a long-awaited industry code to address the spread of misinformation on their services in Australia.

The release comes only days after Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing "news content" on its platform, leading experts to predict that misinformation would spread more rapidly in the news vacuum.

The code could change the experience of using social media in Australia, with more pop-up warnings about fake news, as well as better systems to report misinformation.

Misinformation is false or misleading information, and disinformation is the same, but spread with an intent to mislead.

In December 2019, the Australian Government asked the digital industry to develop a code to address disinformation. A pandemic later, these companies, represented by the industry association DIGI, have now released a final version.

Under the code, which is voluntary, all signatories commit to develop and implement measures to deal with mis- and disinformation on their services.

The current signatories are Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, TikTok and Redbubble (an online marketplace for user-submitted art).

The emphasis of the code is on outcomes rather than specific actions: signatories will choose how to best address misinformation on their service.

The code gives examples of what they may do, including labelling false content, demoting the ranking of content, prioritising credible sources, suspension or disabling of accounts and removal of content.

The signatories will each publish an annual report on their progress.

The Australian media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which is tasked with overseeing the development of the code, criticised this lack of specific measures or targets when DIGI released a draft version of the code in October 2020.

The ACMA has the power to recommend the government introduce mandatory regulation if the code isn't up to scratch.

But commenting today on the release of the final version, which experts say is much the same as the draft one, the ACMA was broadly positive.

ACMA chairwoman Nerida O'Loughlin said she welcomed the code as a flexible and proportionate approach to dealing with mis- and disinformation online.

"The code anticipates platforms' actions will be graduated and proportionate to the risk of harm," she said.

"This will assist them to strike an appropriate balance between dealing with troublesome content and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

"Signatories will also publish an annual report and additional information on actions that they will take so that users know what to expect when they access these services."

Government will be 'watching carefully' for action
The code also contains a range of non-mandatory objectives including having better systems for reporting incidents of misinformation, and disallowing fake news accounts from collecting advertising money.

The final version of the code adds an extra objective that was not in the draft: to provide greater transparency about the source of political advertising on platforms.

Facebook and Google already publish real-time data on how much money parties and other groups are spending on political ads.

Andrea Carson, an associate professor in communication at La Trobe University, said the code was a good start and the companies should be given a chance to show how they will address disinformation.

"It's too premature to speak too much about it until we give the code a go and see how serious and sincere the companies are," she said.

"The platforms are still teenagers and it's taken a while for the laws to catch up and now we're getting into that space."

The ACMA will report to the government no later than 30 June 2021 on initial compliance with the code and its effectiveness.

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the government "will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective".

The European Union oversaw the introduction of a voluntary industry code for disinformation in 2018, but is now looking at mandatory regulation.

A May 2020 independent review of the EU code found the self-regulatory nature of the agreement made it difficult for the platforms to be held to account for breaches in the code.

Reset Australia, an organisation working to counter digital threats to democracy, described the DIGI code as "pointless and shameless" and proposed in its place a public regulator with the power to issue fines and other penalties.

Reset Australia Executive Director Chris Cooper said companies such as Facebook were continuing to use algorithms that actively promote misinformation, despite committing to addressing the problem.

"This is a regulatory regime that would be laughed out of town if suggested by any other major industry," he said.

"Industry should never be allowed to just write its own rules."


Government to escalate Facebook feud by pulling advertising spend potentially worth millions of dollars

The federal government is pulling all its advertising campaigns from Facebook, as the social media platform continues to block Australians from accessing news.

On Sunday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said his department would not be using Facebook for advertising campaigns.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who oversees public expenditure, said on Monday that the ban would be extended across the government.

"My expectation is that we will pull back from advertising while they undertake this type of terrible activity of pulling down sites inappropriately, seeking to exert power or influence over our democratic systems," he told Radio National.

"We won't tolerate that, we will be standing firm on the legislation and looking at all those advertising points."

The government spent $42 million on digital advertising in 2019-20. The ACCC has reported around one quarter of all online advertising expenditure in Australia goes to Facebook, indicating the move may cost Facebook millions.

Speaking today, Mr Hunt said all of the budgeted funds for Facebook ads would be used in some way or another. "Some may be reallocated temporarily," he said. "We will continue to post on that particular channel [Facebook], we just won't be boosting [posts]."

The Health Minister said there were numerous other channels like television, radio and newspapers that the government was using to spread messaging about the vaccine.

The move comes after Facebook blocked news and news-related pages for Australian users last week.

Charity, health and government pages including 1800Respect, the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Bureau of Meteorology were "inadvertently" blocked as well.

Facebook's decision was prompted by a government bill to force digital tech giants to negotiate with publishers over how much to pay them for use of news in search results or on social media.

Mr Birmingham today said that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had had further conversations with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

"We'd urge Facebook to acknowledge it should behave as we would expect any other re-publisher of content to behave," he said.

He added the government was committed to the current form of the bill, despite the ongoing discussions with Facebook.

Labor's communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland said she respected the decision to pull advertising, but feared misinformation may spread without the right messaging.

"I wouldn't say that this should be a blanket issue the government should take up," she said.

"There are very sound reasons to advertise in some circumstances and not others. It is unfortunate that this has come about at a time when we are in the middle of a pandemic."

A Facebook spokesperson said the company was engaging with the government on "our ongoing concerns with the proposed law".

"We will continue to work with the government on amendments to the law, with the aim of achieving a stable, fair path for both Facebook and publishers."

Deals between Google and publishers reported last week totalled more than $60 million.




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