Showing posts with label free speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free speech. Show all posts

Monday, 30 July 2018

July 2018 was not a good month for Zuckerberg and Facebook Inc - Channel 4 undercover investigation, a lawsuit, falling user numbers, sudden 19% drop in company value & US$12 billion hit to personal fortune


As the fall-out from manipulated US presidential campaign and UK Brexit national referendum continues try at it might Facebook Inc just can't give a cursory apology for its part in these events and mover on - users and mainstream media won't cease scutiny of its business practices.

News.com.au, 27 July 2018:

Shares in Facebook plummeted 19 per cent to $US176.26 at the end of trading on Thursday, wiping out some $US120 billion ($A160 billion) — believed to be the worst single-day evaporation of market value for any company....

Founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has a 13 percent stake in Facebook, saw his fortune dropped by more than $US12 billion ($A16 billion) in less than 24 hours, to around $74 billion ($A100 billion).

The fall came after the social media giant revealed three million European users had closed their accounts since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The record decline pushed the tech-heavy Nasdaq more than one per cent lower.

CNet, 27 July 2018:

It began Wednesday with Facebook, which announced that daily active user counts had fallen in Europe, to 279 million from 282 million earlier this year. Facebook also indicated it was no longer growing in the US and Canada, two of the most lucrative advertising markets. Just as Facebook was working through its second year of nearly nonstop scandals over unchecked political meddling and data misuse, it was becoming clear that the days of consistent and relatively easy growth were fading.

Reuters, 28 July 2018:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) and its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were sued on Friday in what could be the first of many lawsuits over a disappointing earnings announcement by the social media company that wiped out about $120 billion of shareholder wealth.

The complaint filed by shareholder James Kacouris in Manhattan federal court accused Facebook, Zuckerberg and Chief Financial Officer David Wehner of making misleading statements about or failing to disclose slowing revenue growth, falling operating margins, and declines in active users.

Chanel4.com, news release, 17 July 2018:

Dispatches investigation reveals how Facebook moderates content

An undercover investigation by Firecrest Films for Channel 4 Dispatches has revealed for the first time how Facebook decides what users can and can’t see on the platform. (Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network, Channel 4 Dispatches, 9pm, 17 July)
Dispatches’ investigation reveals:
       *Violent content such as graphic images and videos of assaults on children, remaining on the site, despite being flagged by users as inappropriate and requests to have it removed.

·         *Thousands of reported posts remained unmoderated and on the site while we were filming, beyond Facebook’s stated aim of a 24-hour turnaround, including potentially posts relating to suicide threats and self-harm.

·        * Moderators told not to take any action if content shows a child who is visibly below Facebook’s 13-year-old age limit, rather than report it as posted by underage users, even if the content includes self-harming.

·         *Allegations from an early Facebook investor and mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, that Facebook’s business model benefits from extreme content which engages viewers for longer, generating higher advertising revenue.

·         *Pages belonging to far-right groups, with large numbers of followers, allowed to exceed deletion threshold, and subject to different treatment in the same category as pages belonging to governments and news organisations.

·       *  Policies allowing hate speech towards ethnic and religious immigrants, and trainers instructing moderators to ignore racist content in accordance with Facebook’s policies.

      Dispatches sent an undercover reporter to work as a content moderator in Facebook’s largest centre for UK content moderation. The work is outsourced to a company called Cpl Resources plc in Dublin which has worked with Facebook since 2010. The investigation reveals the training given to content moderators to demonstrate how to decide whether content reported to them by users, such as graphic images and videos of child abuse, self-harming, and violence should be allowed to remain on the site or be deleted. Dispatches also films day-to-day moderation of content on the site, revealing:
      Violent content:
      One of the most sensitive areas of Facebook’s content rulebook is about graphic    violence. When dealing with graphic violence content, moderators have three options – ignore, delete, or mark as disturbing which places restrictions on who can see the content.
      Dispatches’ undercover reporter is seen moderating a video showing two teenage schoolgirls fighting. Both girls are clearly identifiable and the video has been shared more than a thousand times. He’s told that Facebook’s rules say that because the video has been posted with a caption condemning the violence and warning people to be careful about visiting the location where it was filmed, it should not be deleted and instead should be left on the site and marked as disturbing content. Dispatches speaks to the mother of the girl involved who tells the programme the distress and impact the video had on her daughter. She struggles to understand the decision to leave the video up on the site. “To wake up the next day and find out that literally the whole world is watching must have been horrifying. It was humiliating for her, it was devastating for her. You see the images and it’s horrible, it’s disgusting. That’s someone’s child fighting in the park. It’s not Facebook entertainment.”

      Facebook told Dispatches that the child or parent of a child featured in videos like this can ask them to be removed. Richard Allan, VP of Public Policy at Facebook said, “Where people are highlighting an issue and condemning the issue, even if the issue is painful, there are a lot of circumstances where people will say to us, look Facebook, you should not interfere with my ability to highlight a problem that’s occurred.

      Online anti-child abuse campaigner Nicci Astin tells Dispatches about another violent video which shows a man punching and stamping on a toddler. She says she reported the video to Facebook in 2012 and received a message back saying it didn’t violate its terms and conditions. The video is used during the undercover reporter’s training period as an example of what would be left up on the site, and marked as disturbing, unless posted with a celebratory caption. The video is still up on the site, without a graphic warning, nearly six years later. Facebook told Dispatches they do escalate these issues and contact law enforcement, and the video should have been removed.

      One moderator tells the Dispatches undercover reporter that “if you start censoring too much then people lose interest in the platform…. It’s all about making money at the end of the day.”
      Venture Capitalist Roger McNamee was one of Facebook’s earliest investors, a mentor to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the man who brought Sheryl Sandberg to the company. He tells Dispatches that Facebook’s business model relies on extreme content:
      “From Facebook’s point of view this is, this is just essentially, you know, the crack cocaine of their product right. It’s the really extreme, really dangerous form of content that attracts the most highly engaged people on the platform. Facebook understood that it was desirable to have people spend more time on site if you’re going to have an advertising based business, you need them to see the ads so you want them to spend more time on the site. Facebook has learned that the people on the extremes are the really valuable ones because one person on either extreme can often provoke 50 or 100 other people and so they want as much extreme content as they can get.”

      Richard Allan told Dispatches: Shocking content does not make us more money, that’s just a misunderstanding of how the system works …. People come to Facebook for a safe secure experience to share content with their family and friends. The vast majority of those 2 billion people would never dream of sharing content that, like that, to shock and offend people. And the vast majority of people don’t want to see it. There is a minority who are prepared to abuse our systems and other internet platforms to share the most offensive kind of material. But I just don’t agree that that is the experience that most people want and that’s not the experience we’re trying to deliver.

      Underage users:
      No child under 13 can have a Facebook account. However, a trainer tells the undercover reporter not to proactively take any action regarding their age if the report contains an image of a user who is visibly underage, unless the user admits to being underage: “We have to have an admission that the person is underage. If not, we just like pretend that we are blind and we don’t know what underage looks like.” Even if the content contains images for self-harm for example, and the image is of someone who looks underage the user is treated like an adult and sent information about organisations which help with self-harming issues, rather than being reported for being underage: “If this person was a kid, like a 10-year-old kid we don’t care, we still action the ticket as if they were an adult.” Facebook confirmed to Dispatches that its policy is not to take action about content posted by users who appear to be underage, unless the user admits to being underage.

Hate speech:
       Dispatches’ undercover reporter is told that, while content which racially abuses protected ethnic or religious groups violates Facebook’s guidelines, if the posts racially abuse immigrants from these groups, then the content is permitted. Facebook’s training for moderators also includes a post including a cartoon comment which describes drowning a girl if her first boyfriend is a negro, as content which is permitted. Facebook confirmed to Dispatches that the picture violates their hate speech standards and they are reviewing what went wrong to prevent it from happening again.

     “Shielded Review” – Popular pages kept up despite violations:
Our undercover reporter is told that if any page is found to have five or more pieces of content that violate Facebook’s rules, then the entire page should be taken down, in accordance with the company’s policies. But we have discovered that posts on Facebook’s most popular pages, with the highest numbers of followers, cannot be deleted by ordinary content moderators at Cpl. Instead, they are referred to the Shielded Review Queue where they can be directly assessed by Facebook rather than Cpl staff. These pages include those belonging to jailed former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, who has over 900,000 followers, and who has been given the same protected status as Governments and news organisations. A moderator tells the undercover reporter that the far-right group Britain First’s pages were left up despite repeatedly featuring content that breached Facebook’s guidelines because, “they have a lot of followers so they’re generating a lot of revenue for Facebook. The Britain First Facebook page was finally deleted in March 2018 following the arrest of deputy leader Jayda Fransen.
      Facebook confirmed to Dispatches that they do have special procedures for popular and high profile pages, which includes Tommy Robinson and included Britain First.
      They say Shielded Review has been renamed ‘Cross Check’. Lord Allen told Dispatches: “if the content is indeed violating it will go….I want to be clear this is not a discussion about money, this is a discussion about political speech. People are debating very sensitive issues on Facebook, including issues like immigration. And that political debate can be entirely legitimate. I do think having extra reviewers on that when the debate is taking place absolutely makes sense and I think people would expect us to be careful and cautious before we take down their political speech.”
      Delays in moderating content:
      Facebook’s publicly stated aim is to assess all reported content within 24 hours. However, during the period of the undercover filming, Dispatches found a significant backlog. Moderators told the undercover reporter that due to the volume of reports, or tickets, they are supposed to moderate, they are unable to check up to 7,000 reported comments on a daily basis. At one point there is a backlog of 15,000 reports which have not been assessed, with some tickets are still waiting for moderation up to five days after being reported. Facebook told Dispatches that the backlog filmed in the programme was cleared by 6 April.
…/ends
[my yellow highlighting]

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Liberals, Nationals and Labor all agree they would rather chill political activism to the point of hypothermia


At both state and federal level Australian citizens are finding their right o speak truth to power is being seriously eroded.

This is just the lastest move.....


Bills passed by the Australian Parliament 28 June 2018:




The Guardian, 26 June 2018:

The espionage bill could criminalise protests and communication of opinions harmful to the Australian government, representing a threat to the limited protections on freedom of speech, according to legal advice produced for the activist group GetUp.

The advice comes after deals between the Coalition and Labor on the espionage bill and the foreign transparency register…..

Although the shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has rejected GetUp’s claims that peaceful protests could be criminalised, his view has been contradicted by both the founder of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Kate Eastman SC, and the advice for GetUp by Wentworth Selborne chambers.

The advice to GetUp said that sabotage offences could cover “a wide range of protest activity” because the “damage to public infrastructure” element includes merely limiting or preventing access to it.

“For example, a person who intentionally blockaded the entry to a coalmine ... with the ultimate intention of ending the sale of coal by Australia to another country ... could be charged with an offence of this kind,” it said.

The advice suggested the significant penalties of up to 20 years prison “is likely to have a chilling effect on protest activity” such as blockading a farm to stop the sale of live animals to another country.

The advice to GetUp suggests that espionage offences in the Coalition bill may breach the implied freedom of political communication because of broad definitions in offences that criminalise dealing with information that may harm national security.
It warned that the definition of harm to national security did not distinguish between harm to Australia and to its government, meaning “espionage offences [appear] broad enough to capture reputational damage and loss of confidence in an Australian government.”

The bill could criminalise publication of information, including opinions or reports of conversations, to international organisations “which may pose little or no threat to Australia’s national security or sovereignty,” it said.

That could include information and opinions about food security, energy security, climate security, economic conditions, migration and refugee policies because these may affect Australia’s “political, military or economic relations with another country”.
Eastman told Guardian Australia those concepts “could cover almost anything” that embarrasses Australia in the eyes of another country.

Eastman cited examples of reporting that Australia spied on the Indonesian president and his wifespied on Timor L’Este, criticism of Australia’s human rights record connected to its role on the United Nations Human Rights Council, or its treatment of foreign investment and major projects such as the Adani Carmichael coalmine.
Even dealing with the “substance, effect or description” of certain information is banned, a further bar to reporting.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Berejiklian Government stacks the deck ahead of next NSW state election


Echo NetDaily, 29 May 2018:

Nationals MLC Ben Franklin has defended new political donation laws after being accused by the Greens of ramming it through last Thursday night and providing only a week for the opposition to digest.

The new rules, say the Greens, will see ‘third party’ groups like unions, GetUp, Sea Shepherd and World Wildlife Fund see their spending caps halved to $500,000.
Additionally the new laws apply to local councils, where some will be able to spend more per voter than others, the party says.

Yet the Electoral Funding Bill 2018 ‘includes some positive measures’, including ‘the definition of prohibited donors, increased transparency and some spending caps in local government election’.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith described the new laws as ‘the most undemocratic ever seen in the state’.

‘Community groups like GetUp, Sea Shepherd, World Wildlife Fund and Marriage Equality have had their funding caps slashed while the old parties have given themselves a massive windfall in both money to run elections and money received after elections,’ Ms Smith told The Echo.

‘The Greens have led the charge when it comes to supporting caps on electoral expenditure but we say that if third party environmental and social justice groups have had their spending halved why haven’t political parties?’ she added.

The Guardian, 23 May 2018:

The legislation would cap campaign spending by an advocacy group at $500,000 during the lead-up to an election, down from the current limit of up to $1.288m, which applies to both major political parties and third-party groups.

Major parties would keep the higher cap on communications spending. The caps operate from 1 October in the year before an election until election day.

The 22 LiberalNationals, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Christian Democratic 
party members of the NSW Legislative Council voting for NSW Electoral Funding Bill 2018 on 23 May 2018 were as follows:

Amato, L
Blair, N
Borsak, R
Brown, R
Clarke, D
Colless, R
Cusack, C
Fang, W
Farlow, S
Franklin, B
Green, P
Harwin, D
Khan, T
MacDonald, S
Maclaren-Jones, N
Mallard, S
Martin, T
Mason-Cox, M
Mitchell,
Nile, F
Phelps, P
Ward, P

Which resulted in the bill officially passing in both houses of the NSW Parliament on 24 May 2018.

Friday, 20 April 2018

A measure of justice for an Australian tweeter



The win won’t eradicate the sustained personal stress or financial difficulties that such an unfair dismissal imposed – still it was pleasing see this tweeter's actions recognised as the right to freedom of political expression.

Hopefully Comcare will not be so bloody minded as to appeal the judgement,

The Sydney MorningHerald, 18 April 2018:

A  former Immigration official sacked over tweets critical of Australia's asylum seeker policy has won a fight for compensation, after an appeals tribunal found her dismissal was unlawful and described government efforts to restrict anonymous comments from its employees as Orwellian.

The decision on Monday will redirect scrutiny to the Immigration Department's dismissal of Michaela Banerji for tweeting criticisms of detention policies, and challenges Australian Public Service rules stopping public servants from expressing their political views on social media.

Ms Banerji took the government to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal after federal workplace insurer Comcare refused to compensate her for the psychological condition that developed after she was sacked in 2013 over tweets from a pseudonymous Twitter account.

The tribunal overturned Comcare's decision and found she suffered depression and anxiety that could be classed an injury under federal compensation laws.

Ms Banerji was working in the Immigration Department when co-workers learnt she was behind the tweets railing against the government's treatment of asylum seekers.

She lost a high-profile attempt to stop her dismissal in the Federal Circuit Court in 2013, a decision seen as likely to curtail other bureaucrats' use of social media when judge Warwick Neville found Australians had no "unfettered implied right (or freedom) of political expression".

In a case that Ms Banerji's lawyer Allan Anforth from Canberra Chambers said could have implications for other public and private sector employees, the AAT said Comcare's refusal was based on a dismissal that was unlawful because it intruded on her right to free political expression.

Her tweets, made from the Twitter handle @LaLegale, were anonymous and did not disclose confidential departmental information, but an internal investigation in 2012 found she had breached the code of conduct for government employees.

In a submission to the tribunal, Mr Anforth said the tweets were posted from her own phone and, in most cases, outside work hours.

The appeals tribunal found the Immigration Department itself had identified Ms Banerji after she posted anonymously, and said guidelines stopping public servants from publicly criticising the government should not be applied to anonymous comments.

"A comment made anonymously cannot rationally be used to draw conclusions about the professionalism or impartiality of the public service," it said.

"Such conclusions might conceivably be open if the comments were explicitly attributed to, say, an unnamed public servant, but that hypothetical situation does not apply to Ms Banerji."

The tribunal found Ms Banerji appeared to have taken care not to have used information which could only have been in her possession as an Immigration employee.

It lashed the government decision to sack her, saying it "impermissibly trespassed upon her implied freedom of political communication", and "with a law only weakly and imperfectly serving a legitimate public interest".

"The burden of the code on Ms Banerji’s freedom was indeed heavy – the exercise of the freedom cost her her employment.

"In our opinion, there is no significant justification available to the employer here for the law which exacted that cost."

Comcare is considering the tribunal's decision. The findings could be appealed in the full Federal Court…..

Thursday, 1 March 2018

No need to worry about the possibility that a Liberal-Nationals Federal Government will impose censorship on the free press in Australia



The time to fret over the possibility of government censorship of the media is over because in February 2018 it ceased being a distant possibility and became fact.

This is what the Australian Press Council stated about the News Corp online article….

Australian Press Council (APC):   


The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published in news.com.au on 31 May 2017, headed “Islamic State [IS] terror guide encourages luring victims via Gumtree, eBay”.

The opening paragraph read: “ISLAMIC State has released a step-by-step guide on how to murder nonbelievers, which includes how to lure targets via fake ads on Gumtree and eBay”. The article proceeded to relay in detail how an article in “[t]he latest edition of the terror group’s English-language propaganda magazine … encourages would-be terrorists to advertise products on second-hand selling sites … to lure victims and assassinate them”. The article mostly comprised extracts from the source material describing the steps necessary to perform such acts.

The Council considered that the article did publish much of the source material from IS verbatim, with limited accompanying analysis or context, such as comments from experts and websites such as Gumtree. The Council accepted there was no intention to encourage or support terrorism, but considered that republishing content from terrorist entities in this manner can perpetuate the purpose of such propaganda and give publicity to its ideas and practices.

However, the Council accepted the public interest in alerting readers to potential risks to their safety. It considered that on balance, the public interest in alerting readers to the dangerous content of the terrorist propaganda and its instructional detail was greater than the risk to their safety posed by the effective republication of terrorist propaganda content. Given this, the Council concluded that the public interest justified publication of the article. Accordingly, the publication did not breach General Principle 6.

The Council noted that great care needs to be exercised by publications when reporting on terrorist propaganda to ensure that public safety is not compromised. In particular, effectively republishing source material comprising instructional detail in how to carry out particular terrorist acts could pose a risk to public safety, and reasonable steps should be taken to prevent such an outcome.

This is what the Turnbull Government did…….

News.com.au, 28 February 2018:

…the article titled “Islamic State terror guide encourages luring victims via Gumtree, eBay” no longer exists.

A week after it was published on May 31, 2017, the Attorney-General’s office contacted news.com.au to demand it be taken down, saying the Classification Board had ruled it should be refused classification as it “directly or indirectly” advocated terrorist acts.

It appears to be the first time section 9A of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 has been used to censor a news report, since it was first added in 2007.

The action has alarmed the publisher of news.com.au as Australian media in general were not informed the Classification Board had the power to ban news stories or that the eSafety Commissioner had the power to instigate investigations into news articles.

“The first news.com.au knew of this matter was when contacted by the Attorney-General’s Department and advised of the Classification Board decision,” news.com.au argued as part of a separate Press Council investigation into the article.
“The department, board and the eSafety Commissioner did not contact news.com.au beforehand to advise of the investigation. Consequently, news.com.au was not given the right to make submissions or a defence in regard to the article.”

News.com.au removed the article as it was facing legal penalties from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) if it refused, including fines or even civil or criminal legal action.
In justifying its decision, the Classification Board noted the article contained “detailed references and lengthy quotations from Rumiyah (Islamic State’s propaganda magazine)” with limited author text to provide context.

News.com.au asked the board why there was no opportunity for news organisations to defend the article based on public interest grounds but a response provided by a spokesman for the eSafety Commissioner did not directly address this.

The spokesman said the board did consider whether the material could “reasonably be considered to be done merely as part of public discussion or debate, or as entertainment or satire” before making its decision.

He also acknowledged this may have been the first time a news article had been censored using this section.

However, as a government which to a man fails to grasp how the Internet works their well-laid plans seldom go off without a hitch and, the article that Turnbull & Co wish to erase from memory remains on national and international news sites as I write.

Friday, 19 January 2018

In response to Trump's fake news awards the Committee to Protect Journalists announced Press Oppressors awards


After a couple of date deferrals, well-known right wing ratbag US President Donald J Trump finally released his so-called 2017 Fake News Awards on a Republican web site on 18 January 2017 (Sydney time) announcing "the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media".

As one has come to expect from this inadequate man it was an eleven point non-event with no red carpet, no 'ceremony', absolutely no evidence of corruption being presented and containing a number of distortions of fact.

Trump's awards had been left in the shade weeks ago by Stephen Colbert's mocking off Times Square billboard and the Committee to Protect Journalists' pre-emptive strike.


Shareblue Media, 9 January 2018:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Monday released a list of the world’s worst press oppressors — and Donald Trump took home the top honor, beating out dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The list of global press oppressors recognizes world leaders “who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.” It was released in response to Trump’s upcoming “fake news” awards ceremony.

Trump was named the winner of the “Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom” award for going “above and beyond to silence critical voices and weaken democracy.”
Among other things, Trump has popularized the term “fake news,” using it to describe any news that he doesn’t like — at times, even his own words. He uses the bully pulpit to openly promote Fox News as his personal propaganda arm while denigrating other news sources and calling for the firing of journalists who make honest mistakes.

Most recently, Trump called for banning the book “Fire and Fury” because he doesn’t like its unflattering portrayal of his first year in office.


Most Thin-skinned - Winner: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey, Runner-Up: President Donald Trump, United States

Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press - Winner: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey, Runner-Up: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt

Tightest Grip on Media (This category excludes countries with no independent media, such as North Korea and Eritrea)  - Winner: President Xi Jinping, China, Runner-Up: President Vladimir Putin, Russia

Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom - Winner: State Counselor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar, Runner-Up: President Andrzej Duda, Poland

Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom - Winner: President Donald Trump, United States

The United States, with its First Amendment protection for a free press, has long stood as a beacon for independent media around the world. While previous U.S. presidents have each criticized the press to some degree, they have also made public commitments to uphold its essential role in democracy, at home and abroad. Trump, by contrast, has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as Xi, Erdoğan, and Sisi. Authorities in ChinaSyria, and Russia have adopted Trump's "fake news" epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists. Under Trump's administration, the Department of Justice has failed to commit to guidelines intended to protect journalists' sources, and the State Department has proposed to cut funding for international organizations that help buttress international norms in support of free expression. As Trump and other Western powers fail to pressure the world's most repressive leaders into improving the climate for press freedom, the number of journalists in prison globally is at a record high.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Australian Politics 2018: and you foolishly thought things might get better this year


Well the democracy canary in the political coal mine fell senseless to the bottom of its cage this month when the Turnbull Government admitted that a high level of secrecy would surround its extra-parliamentary review of religious freedom in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December 2017:

Public submissions to the Turnbull government's review of religious freedom in Australia will be kept secret, in a marked departure from normal processes, according to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's department.

The department, which has control of the inquiry, said it would not publish the submissions, which is in stark contrast to ordinary parliamentary inquiries, in which most submissions are automatically released.

"Submissions to the Expert Panel will not be published online," a department spokesman said in an emailed statement. "However, where individuals provide consent, submission extracts may be included in public materials."

Late on Tuesday, however, Mr Turnbull's media team sought to intervene by suggesting inquiry chairman Philip Ruddock would decide if submissions were published. The PM's office then instructed his own department to issue a new statement to that effect.

An hour later, the department said decisions on releasing submissions would rest on "whether individuals have provided consent", but that appears impossible, because the online consent form assures people their submission "will not be published in its entirety".

It is expected the high-profile inquiry - prompted by fears about the impact of same-sex marriage on religious practice - will attract submissions from Australia's biggest churches, including the Catholic and Anglican archdioceses of Sydney and Melbourne. It presents an opportunity for religious organisations and other advocates to spell out the exact changes to the law they believe are necessary.

Mr Ruddock said when contacted on Tuesday that the panel had not discussed the publication of submissions and ultimately it was a matter for the PM's department…..

The expert panel - which also includes Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, Catholic priest Frank Brennan and retired judge Annabelle Bennett - is expected to meet for the first time next Wednesday. 

However, the negative response in mainstream and social media saw the democracy canary revived and placed on life support as the secrecy provisions in the online Consent form have been changed and now only apply to all those submissions received to date.

"The Expert Panel has not yet determined a final approach to publication of submissions. Submissions already provided will not be published without the agreement of the author" 

Which given that the majority of submissions would have been received by now means that it is highly unlikely that submissions made on behalf of religious institutions will ever be published by the Expert Panel.

NOTE

The submission period for the Religious Freedom Review commenced in December 2017 and ends on 31 January 2018 with the Expert Panel to deliver its findings by 31 March 2018.