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Michael Atkinson Lies

The South Australian government wanted to force bloggers to disclose their name and post-code when commenting on an election [1]. According to Adelaide Now this included posts on Twitter and Facebook [2].

As expected there was a strong public reaction to this and Michael Atkinson (state Attorney General) stated that the law was not going to be enforced and that it would be retrospectively repealed after the election [3]. Which might have been the end of the issue, but he also said “All MPs and all parties voted for Electoral law. Hope Libs, Greens, Family First, Independents etc will join us to support repeal” which seems to be a clear claim that the Greens supported that legislation.

The Greens are pretty good about freedom of speech issues so I immediately enquired as to what was going on. The following is from a Greens media brief issued yesterday by the office of Mark Parnell MLC (the Greens MLC in SA) which was issued before the new law was retracted:

Attorney General Michael Atkinson must urgently clarify the scope of new electoral laws covering public comment on the internet, in the wake of concerns that the impact will be much wider than expected.

“With only weeks to go before the election kicks off, there is an urgent need for the Attorney General to explain exactly what his laws are
intended to capture,” said Greens MLC Mark Parnell.

“When this was debated in Parliament last year, we were told that the law change would only affect ‘electronic versions of a journal’. Now there is
concern that the laws could extend further, restricting public commentary on media sites like AdelaideNow and ABC Online,” he said.

When the Bill was debated in the Lower House, Michael Atkinson originally wanted to include ALL material on the web. However, the Government
backed down on this by the time it got to the Upper House, with Minister Holloway saying:
“The intention is to limit the coverage of section 116 as it applies to the internet to electronic versions of a journal rather than any electronic publication on the internet.”

A ‘journal’ was narrowly defined as ‘a newspaper, magazine or other periodical’.

Now I don’t have a great objection to a law that demands that journalists identify themselves when commenting on an election, and I think that most people would not care about that. It seems that Michael Atkinson is repeatedly changing his claims to try and match popular sentiment.

He has got form for this sort of thing, his past “achievements” include censoring the censorship debate about an R18+ rating for computer games [4].

5 comments to Michael Atkinson Lies

  • Anonymous

    Why do you find it acceptable that journalists must identify themselves, and only unacceptable that bloggers must? I find both completely unacceptable.

  • Gamers have known about this asshole for years – I note nobody gave a crap when his efforts ensured games rated as only for adults everywhere else in the world were being marketed as acceptable for kids in Australia.

    Now he’s inconveniencing people “who matter”, perhaps it’s time to get rid of him? A link to http://www.gamers4croydon.org/ is obligatory at this point.

  • sam varghese

    any print journal that is put online _will_ contain the actual names of its writers.
    there is no need for anyone to specify this in law, it has been that way since print
    publications started being put online and will continue to be so.

    this is because print publications only in very rare cases accept material for publication
    under aliases. all their own writers/journalists write under their own names.

    the same applies to letters which are printed in these journals – and by journal i mean a
    newspaper, magazine, or any other publication.

    when it comes to online, the laws are still loose. there has been no move to draft laws
    specifically for online publication because there has been no need to do so.

    over the last four or five years, blogs have proved to be a major influence, hence
    the move to try and get people associated with them to out themselves so that they can
    be penalised/punished if warranted.

    (you can read about the growing influence of blogs on my own blog: http://wildcard.gnubies.com/?cat=7 )

    atkinson’s law is thus unnecessary. his change to include online-only publications is
    equally stupid – lots of the traffic which provides income for online-only ventures comes
    from visitors who rarely give their real names and addresses. businesses would be opposed
    to such a law and given that pollies cannot afford to put businesses offside (where would
    their election funding come from?) such a law would ultimately have to be repealed.

  • etbe

    sam: There are of course the “name and address withheld by request” letters, the letters which only publish the first name (“Russell from Melbourne” is hardly a unique identifier), and the majority of letters are not published with the postcode – usually just the city or state if that. But I guess that this might be OK with the Atkinson censorship idea as he could request that the newspaper reveal their records to the authorities.

    Also I edited your comment to put a space after the URL.

  • sam varghese

    yes, you are right, russell, on occasion, someone may request that their name not be used on a letter. the letters editor may grant the request, depending on how much validity it has.

    letters are generally published with the suburb listed but the newspaper/magazine will always have a full address for contact in the event that there are legal or other implications later on as a result of publication.

    as with any other organisation, a newspaper publisher has to conform to the law of the land. but in some cases, when journalists are unnecessarily harassed for their sources, the company can refuse to divulge the sources, especially if it is a story of some importance. any journalist also has the right to refuse to divulge sources but may have to go to jail as a result.