Monday, September 11, 2023

Sky News Australia takes legal action against RMIT FactLab

Sky News Australia has begun legal action against RMIT FactLab, demanding the retraction of false fact-checking verdicts on the TV channel’s online content, and reimbursement for lost revenue.

The broadcaster’s lawyers, Ashurst, have written to RMIT University and listed at least five fact checks published since December last year – four relating to voice referendum content – that claim Sky’s content is false.

RMIT FactLab, led by director Russell Skelton, published the five fact checks despite its International Fact-Checking Network certification expiring on December 2 last year. To issue fact-checking verdicts, RMIT FactLab must hold a valid IFCN certification as part of its agreement with social media giant and Facebook owner, Meta.

A legal letter to RMIT by Sky News Australia’s lawyers on August 28, said the lack of IFCN certification was problematic.

“Despite FactLab acknowledging it is not certified and its clear acceptance of that fact, demonstrated by the removal of some of the misleading material, the ‘verdicts’ will appear on the FactLab website and therefore are still being used on Facebook,” it said.

“As you are aware, Meta only works with IFCN certified organisations as fact checkers.

“Continuing to publish the verdicts, and provide them to Facebook, is clearly misleading when FactLab concedes it does not have the relevant certification required to do so.”

The letter has also accused RMIT FactLab of stating it has certification it no longer holds on fact check verdicts. Sky’s lawyers said this is “false and misleading” under Australian Consumer Law.

FactLab came under fire last month after it fact checked reports by Sky News host Peta Credlin that the Uluru Statement from the Heart was 26 pages long.

Sky News uploaded a video of Credlin’s comments about the statement’s length on its Facebook page but FactLab declared it was “false information” and a tag was placed on the video. It was subsequently unable to be viewed.

Sky News, owned by News Corporation, publisher of The Australian, published a lengthy report on the saga and conduct by RMIT FactLab in the “Fact Check Files”, by digital editor Jack Houghton.

Meta subsequently suspended its partnership with RMIT Fact-Lab, due to the lapsed IFCN certification status and concerns of bias in relation to fact checks done on voice debate content.

RMIT University’s lawyers responded to Sky’s legal demands on Thursday and said the broadcaster’s actions had resulted in the RMIT FactLab’s suspension. The lawyers also said when Sky established a Facebook page, “it agreed to Meta’s terms of use” and that Sky should instead take legal action against Meta.

“These terms include that your client’s content may be subject to whatever programs Meta utilises or applies, such as third party fact checking programs, or algorithms which either promote or reduce your client’s contents appearance in user’s feeds,” RMIT’s lawyer said. “If, as your client claims, it has suffered quantifiable financial loss, because of Meta’s application of its own terms of use, then your client’s claim is against Meta.”

However, Sky’s lawyers sent a legal letter to RMIT University on Friday disputing these claims.

“Our client may have agreed to Meta’s terms of use, but its agreement to those terms do not extend to actions that breach the law and thus enable FactLab to conduct its ‘fact-checking’ for Meta whilst in breach of the consumer law,” the letter from Sky’s lawyers said.

“In any event, it is RMIT who has breached its agreement with Meta by failing to adhere to the requirements of its third party fact checking program.”

Liberal Senator James Paterson wrote to Meta on August 30 and asked the tech giant to review all previous fact checks done by the RMIT’s FactLab and release the findings publicly.

On Saturday, Meta’s regional director of policy, Mia Garlick, in a response to Senator Paterson, said complaints about fact checks should be sent to the IFCN.

“With respect to any concerns about the nature of a fact check, to ensure the independence of the fact-checking process and to allow them to be promptly addressed, these must be addressed directly with the individual fact-checker within seven days of the fact check,” she said.

“At present, given the length of time that has occurred since the fact checks you reference, complaints about any concerns that a fact-checker has not met the IFCN requirements should be directed to the International Fact Checking Network.”

An RMIT spokeswoman said FactLab’s accreditation with IFCN is in the process of being renewed. “RMIT FactLab stands by the accuracy of its work to date and remains dedicated to slowing the spread of viral misinformation and disinformation through its fact checks,” she said.


Poor reading and writing skills are dooming students to failure in high school and university, eminent scientist warns

One of Australia’s most eminent scientists has blasted a lack of basic literacy for sabotaging students’ success in high school and university, as damning new data reveals that failed teaching methods could cost a generation of children $12 billion in lifetime earnings.

High school science teachers have blamed low literacy for students’ struggles in the high-stakes STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Australia’s former chief scientist, Alan Finkel, is demanding more focus on the phonics-based teaching of reading and writing in primary school, as well as the ­basics of mathematics, to stop students failing in high school.

“These are muscle memory subjects you need to know early,’’ Dr Finkel said on Sunday.

“In literacy, not teaching phonics has been a serious problem because we have a generation that hasn’t been taught effectively how to read. And good luck picking up mathematics at university for a subject like engineering or architecture if you didn’t learn it at school.’’

Shockingly low levels of literacy are also revealed in a report by Equity Economics, which calculates $12bn in lost lifetime earnings for children who fail to master reading and writing.

The report is under consideration by a panel of experts advising education ministers on key targets and priorities for their next national school reform agreement.

Teachers Professional Association of Australia’s Scott Stanford launched a scathing attack against the sheer…
It shows the ACT is the only state or territory in which year 9 students are reading at the level expected for their grade, based on mean scores from last year’s ­NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests.

ear 9 students performed at the level expected of a year 8 student in South Australia, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. But in Queensland and Tasmania, year 9 students had the reading ability of a year 7 student, in terms of mean scores.

The report says four out of every 10 students in Australia do not meet international reading benchmarks for 15-year-olds.

“Children with lower levels of literacy are more likely to end up in the lowest income bracket in the future,’’ the report states.

“This perpetuates a cycle of reliance on government assistance and escalates costs within healthcare, housing, employment and justice systems. The impact extends across lifetimes and generations.’’

Dr Finkel, an eminent neuroscientist and electrical engineer who served as chief scientist from 2016 to 2020, warned that low ­levels of literacy were sabotaging teenagers’ learning in other subjects at high school.

Many science teachers “do not think their students are proficient in what many would consider basic skills.’’

“Literacy and numeracy underpin the higher-order thinking we expect in our science classrooms,’’ he said.

“Students in science should be applying their knowledge from maths and English classes to reinforce their learning and access scientific concepts.’’

The warning from such a high-profile scientist will put pressure on the nation’s education ministers to mandate the teaching of phonics-based reading – in which students sound out letter combinations to “decode’’ words instead of guessing them by looking at pictures, or learning them by heart.

Dr Finkel, who has also served as special adviser to the federal government on low emissions technologies, co-founded science education company Stile Education, which provides curriculum materials to one in three Australian high schools.

In Stile Education’s latest survey of more than 1100 Australian high school science teachers, 57 per cent per cent felt their students’ literacy levels were limiting their ability to understand science in high school.

Half felt their students’ poor grasp of maths was limiting their ability to understand science. Students could not use basic spreadsheet tools to manipulate or visualise data.

Dr Finkel said children also needed to be taught to touch type, given they spent so much time on computers.

Forty per cent of teachers felt their teenage students were not proficient touch typists – an important skill if children were to avoid injury such as carpal tunnel, tendinitis or repetitive strain injury from using keyboards incorrectly.

Alarmingly, given the rapid rise of generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT, 40 per cent of teachers felt their students could not understand the difference between a good and a bad source of information on the internet.

To reduce cheating and improve learning, Dr Finkel called for a return to pen-and-paper exams in schools, with students reading their answers aloud, to “bypass any opportunity for AI to be involved”.

Dr Finkel said it was essential that students learn to think for themselves, based on the foundational skills of reading, writing and maths taught in schools.

“People need that ability deeply ingrained in their brains, so they can be part of a real-time conversation,’’ he said.

“Too few students can tell the difference between good and bad information on the internet.

“In the workplace, if you’re having a discussion with people around the table, you expect each of your colleagues to articulate their thoughts clearly and verbally.

“You can’t do that if everyone says, ‘I need 10 minutes to research my answer’.”

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said on Sunday that he was “interested in what works’’.

“Phonics is a critical part of that and so is catch-up tutoring,’’ he said. “Some children need extra intensive support, either one-on-one or in a small group to help them catch up and keep up.’’

Mr Clare said educational priorities and targets for schools were under review for the next schools reform agreement with state and territory governments next year.


Top Qld. cop slams kids in watch houses plan

As Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll doubles down on her stance that children shouldn’t be in watch houses, Police Union president Ian Leavers says he disagrees and that young criminals who commit murder, home invasions and rapes “need to be locked up”.

Ahead of a media conference with Police Minister Mark Ryan on Friday morning, the Commissioner sent a memo to all of her staff today saying that, in her opinion, “children should not be held in watch houses unless absolutely necessary and for the shortest time possible”.

But Mr Leavers, who was speaking at the same press conference said: “I have a great deal of respect for the Commissioner but I have a very different view”.

“My view is if they are committing murders, home invasions and rapes they need to be locked up,” he said.

“And if it’s in a detention centre or a watch house, I don’t particularly care because public safety is my number one priority.

“And my colleagues on the front line, they are dealing with victims day in and day out as well as being victims themselves. And if these people do the wrong thing they need to be locked up.”

After his comments Ms Carroll then said “I agree with Ian, these people need to be locked up”. “My view is a watch house is a temporary situation until they get to a detention centre,” she said.

“But in a perfect agreement, we’re talking about children who are serious offenders and that is why they are in a watch house in the first place. But certainly watch houses are temporary facilities and we need to get them into a detention centre.”.

It comes as Queensland Human Rights Commission Scott McDougall confirmed he was in line to meet with Premier after her office got in touch — the first meeting between the pair in nearly five years.

Emergency laws rushed through state parliament in recent weeks allow the government to hold children indefinitely in watch houses and to declare those facilities official youth detention centres — with human rights law overridden to make this happen.

But there isn’t capacity to turn more than one watch house into a makeshift youth prison Ms Carroll said, asserting children shouldn’t be in police holding cells anyway.

“It is my view into the future that if there is a capacity with watch houses with detention centres, that only one watch house is dedicated, a modern watch house and all the services come to the watch house to address the needs of those children,” Ms Carroll said.

“We can’t do that across all of Queensland.

“I’ve always been upfront about this, that the least amount of time a child spends in the watch house the better you know, watch houses are not for children.”

The Courier-Mail has reported the Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer has previously indicated the newly constructed Caboolture watch-house could be used to hold children.

“Last month, an application was recently heard in the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus (a common law principle that demands a person incarcerated be brought before a court to determine there is lawful authority to detain the person) seeking the immediate transfer of particular children from watch houses to a youth detention centre,” Ms Carroll wrote to staff today.

“The applicant’s argument was that a child was required to be transferred to a detention centre as soon as the QPS could practically do so, without any regard for the capacity of a youth detention centre to receive the child.

“Whilst the issue was not ultimately decided in that case, concerns about the interpretation of the relevant provisions in the Youth Justice Act 1992 (the Act) led to the government taking steps to amend the Act to clarify that the existing arrangements regarding the transfer of children from watch houses is lawful.

“These amendments recognise that the capacity of a youth detention centre to receive a child is a relevant factor in the timing of any transfer and the government introduced a detailed framework under which these decisions are to be made. I would like to clarify, that the government’s decision, is not to house more children in watch houses.”

Ms Carroll said the challenge was that “future immediate transfers of children from watch houses to a youth detention centre may not be possible”.

“It is still the QPS position that children should not be held in watch houses unless absolutely necessary and for the shortest time possible,” she wrote, using bold and underlined text in the memo.

“We all know that watch houses are not designed to detain people for lengthy periods of time. They are constructed only for temporary detention. If the need arises whereby a watch-house is needed to hold youth offenders for an extended period, a watch-house will be selected that has the best facilities to do so.

“This will include the provision of access to external providers such as education and mental health services. I am very conscious of the capacity issues impacting watch houses and the subsequent strain on our workforce. The work you do to ensure that community safety is maintained despite watch houses exceeding capacity is nothing short of exceptional.

“The QPS remains committed to working with government and key stakeholders to consider and implement alternative interim and longer-term solutions to provide better alternatives to children being housed in watch houses. I sincerely thank you for your ongoing hard work and commitment to our community, in what has been a challenging environment in terms of demand, the QPS continues to excel, and I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you.”

Mr McDougall had previously blasted the government for the “mockery” of the parliamentary process and revealed he hadn’t met with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in nearly five years despite numerous attempts.

He confirmed on Thursday Ms Palaszczuk’s office had recently been in touch to arrange a meeting.

“We’re not just talking about the right to humane treatment, we’re now talking about the right to life of these children,” Mr McDougall said.

“I’m looking forward to that meeting to discuss some of the urgent actions I think are required to ensure that we avoid what I can see being a human rights disaster occurring this summer.”

The state government, including Acting Premier Steven Miles most recently, have defended the rushed laws as necessary amid a nearly successful Supreme Court challenge which could have forced children in watch houses to be transferred to youth jail immediately.

The recent strengthening of youth justice laws such as making breach of bail an offence has led to child detention rates skyrocketing in Queensland, with the three youth prisons operating at near-capacity constantly.


Huge new solar farm upsetting country people

There’s nothing but heartbreak and dismay as another renewable energy project looms over regional Australia.

Danish company European Energy has been given approval to build Australia’s largest solar ‘farm’ a mere 70km from the Great Barrier Reef – the same reef that climate scientists weep dramatically over whenever a government grant surfaces.

We say ‘farm’ because nothing grows beneath the scorched Earth veneer of silicon panels.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘captain’s call’ of $443 million to save the Great Barrier Reef is starting to feel like a nasty, expensive joke. If the argument is ‘carbon emissions are killing the reef’ then the associated emissions from Queensland’s ‘green’ projects are nothing short of catastrophic. The reef would be better off with the old coal-fired power stations.

Locals whose communities are sitting in the path of these projects are upset that the current Labor government’s desire to reach Net Zero at any cost – frequently cheered on by the nearest Liberal – is threatening the environment rather than conserving it.

‘They’re not subject to reef regulations,’ complained one local. ‘It’s just out of control. Complete disregard for the reef and the people it destroys.’

This particular solar ‘farm’ is expected to cover an area of roughly 2,700 ha with 2 million solar panels. If the build runs to schedule, it will connect to the grid in 2026. What’s the carbon footprint of these panels? Who knows. If it’s ever completed, it should produce 2.8 TWh/year unless it under-performs due to dust, damage, and bad weather. All things that never happen in Queensland … right?

Community comments from unhappy residents sound eerily similar to those from coastal communities that ‘love’ wind energy but don’t want any turbines in their ocean views. Farmers in the Gladstone region feel the same way about solar farms. They’re pro-renewable energy but only in the ‘right place’ which, presumably, is not their place.

No matter where you put these projects, they destroy the local area.

There is going to be a lot more of them which you can find in the REZ Roadmap. Spread across three regions, Queensland is carpeting itself in over 100 solar farms and 1,000s kms of transmission lines. No more pristine outback wilderness. The CopperString project, for example, is an 840 km transmission line marked as ‘the largest ever economic development project in North Queensland’. Largest ever mess, too.

Despite ‘powering central Queensland’ the project is not removing remote Queensland’s reliance on diesel as ‘these communities are not connected to the main energy grid, decarbonisation of the main grid will not impact them’. Strange. Maybe the Queensland government should have focused on bringing these remote areas into the 19th Century before sending the rest of the state into the Dark Ages.

For a nation that keeps voting for renewable energy, professing a sort of endless love affair with the technology, property values decrease everywhere they are installed. Virtue signalling does not translate to extra dollars on home valuations. Homeowners in the area of this solar farm are furious that they haven’t been offered any compensation for the expected value decrease of 30 per cent.

‘That’s basically it, mate, suffer your jocks. It’s destroying us, destroying our family, destroying the district…’ said one farmer, facing an uncertain future. ‘It’s a beautiful little valley.’

Will it still be beautiful glinting in the sunlight with an artificial hide of silicon?

‘I’ve got a neighbour, he’s in a proper mess. We’re struggling to look after him. It’s just not right.’

They later added, ‘It’s hard to believe in Australia that you can just do this. We’re collateral damage in this rush to Net Zero.’

Unfortunately, once the public ‘vote green’, they issue a social licence and public mandate to the ruling government to do exactly this… Elections have consequences.

The project website has a statement addressing community concerns. ‘How will the project benefit the community?’ It replies: ‘Opportunities will be given for local contractors to supply goods and services, particularly during the construction … rates and rent will be paid to the Gladstone Regional Council and local landowners respectively during the life of the project.’

That resolves everything.(!!)




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