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The South Australian government wanted to force bloggers to disclose their name and post-code when commenting on an election . According to Adelaide Now this included posts on Twitter and Facebook .
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Atkinson (state Attorney General) stated that the law was not going to be enforced and that it would be retrospectively repealed after the election . 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brief issued yesterday by the office of Mark Parnell MLC (the Greens MLC in SA) which was issued before the new law was retracted: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.
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