03 February, 2010

South Australia Speakeasy

In an unbelievable move, the South Australian government, with support from the opposition, has passed a law requiring anyone who comments on an election in any published or broadcast form, to publish their name and address as well.

116—Published material to identify person responsible for political content
(1) A person must not, during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the Internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the Internet, unless the material or the programme in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material.

On the face of it, this doesn't seem like such a bad thing.  You have always had to supply name and address to have a letter to the editor printed.  But this would apply the same rules to passing comment online as apply to political advertising with all those writtenspokenandauthorisedby statements.  And while none of us have to look very far to find libelous or abusive comments from some gutless wonder acting safe in the knowledge that no-one can jump through his screen and punch him in the mouth, often the veil of anonymity is necessary for fearless comment.  There is a reason I don't publish my full name or exact location on this site.  I don't want to be found by creeps.  And I'm not saying my readers are creeps, but come on, you've seen what the internet is like.  There are a lot of freaks out there.  Why should they have my address if I don't have theirs?  It's not that I don't have the courage of my convictions, it's just that I'm not stupid.

As such, the law is a form of censorship by forcing people to reveal their personal details just to have the right of comment.  The expression, "We know where you live," is most commonly used as a threat.

Naturally, newspapers and all commercial websites are going to have to comply but I don't know how they're going to enforce it when it comes to Facebook, Twitter and 'blogs without mechanisms that would make the Chinese government salivate.  I'm not sure the SA government has the resources to do it and even if it did, if that would really be the most appropriate use for them.

I think this calls for some civil disobedience.  Feel free to post comments here on the South Australian state election, with or without your real name and address.  Do keep it decent - not because I'm telling you what to say but because otherwise, you'll just look like a dick and cheapen your argument.  Other than that, go for it!  Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can come up with the best joke about throwing the book at Mike Rann.

The SA government has backed down.
However, this is not the end of the matter, as SA Attorney General Michael Atkinson would no doubt like it to be.  Although he says he will move to repeal the act, this cannot be done until after the election.  Therefore, such a repeal assumes a Labor win.  He is acting on the advice of his opposition counterpart Vickie Chapman, but we don't yet know if the Liberals are making the same pledge.  The legislation was passed with opposition support so both parties are tainted by it.

Furthermore, he can't credibly say that the laws will not be enforced during the campaign.  For a start, they would be impossible to adequately enforce anyway.  Secondly, after an election writ is issued, the government officially enters caretaker mode which means they can only do as much as is needed to keep the state functioning. They cannot enact policy.  Beyond that, the idea that the government can pick and choose which laws are enforced and which are not, is perhaps even more disturbing than the initial legislation.


  1. I've just posted on the exact same topic. I drafted it yesterday but held on to it and toned it down somewhat this morning - I was so furious when I wrote it! Interestingly, Atkinson has now announced that the law will be repealed, but not until AFTER the state election, however he says it won't be enforced during the election campaign. Personally I don't trust him a bit.

  2. Sutile censorship...I already told you to keep an eye on them because of that "protecting kids on the internet" thing.

  3. It's the federal government that is trying to regulate the internet, but you're absolutely right. The idea is a farce. It won't even do what they say it will do - it's just a case of wanting to look like they're doing something while actually making ISPs responsible for it all. It's like making telephone companies responsible for what is discussed on the 'phone. It's madness.

    Kelly, if parliament has risen, then it's a fair point that nothing can be done until after the election but you're right that it's also very convenient. More in the update above.

  4. That's bullshit! Totally agree with you on all points. Glad I don't live in SA at the moment, coz if that law was here in NSW they'd be coming after me, some of my facebook status updates haven't been very appreciative of the NSW government.

    I heard this Michael Atkinson on Hack on the J's this afternoon and I'm not too keen on him I don't think.

    He was talking about the debate about R18+ video games. One of his arguments against it was that some of the games are so "deplorable" (and other such words) that they just shouldn't be allowed and that's what the current rating system does. Kate said to him, well that's your personal view, and he said something else (can't remember) but I got the point she wanted to make, that his personal views shouldn't be a factor when it comes to laws, etc (but considering our values and life experience have a direct influence on most decisions we make it must be hard for those who need to seperate that from their job of law-maker, etc).

    He suggested that perhaps an R18+ rating for video games could be assesed differently to film and music. I'm split on this issue, as I don't believe that some of these games should even be allowed to be developed (the super violent rape/kill games) but that's my personal opinon and if some people feel they need to play these games, then who am I to impose my own moral view on others. Having said that though, if there aren't any kind of restrictions then some of those most vulnerable to the violence depicted don't get any protection from themselves. However, in the end, if I want to believe in our freedom of choice then I can't be opposed to having an R18+ classification that would make some banned games available (see what I mean by torn).

    However I am against the governments internet filter, really don't think it's right for so many reasons.

    What do you think Bill, I'd be keen to hear your views? (If you already have in a post I must have missed feel free to direct me to that!)
    P.S Sorry for the rambling comment that's off topic!

  5. Your rambles are always welcome and there are no topic-police here!

    My take on censorship in general is that there are clearly things out there that are deplorable, abhorrent, disgusting and obscene. My hope would be that the general public recognises them as such and boycotts any such product, and market forces will do the rest.
    If that doesn't happen, then that disturbs me more than the original content.

    However most of the time, people like Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell will use them to whip up some fake outrage (and ratings for themselves) among an audience that would never have heard of the material otherwise, so who would it hurt?

    I'm not a gamer. On the whole, video games bore me so I can't say anything about the content. In principle, I think I support a ratings system similar to movies. I think the problem comes from the notion that anything called a "game" is therefore pitched at kids, which is an ignorant and idiotic assumption. Most gamers are adults. I don't know, but I get the impression that most actual children are more into Wii tennis than Grand Theft Auto, or whatever the latest thing is.

    I think that's where there's perhaps some analogy between game classifications and the internet filter. With all the cries of "won't somebody think of the children?" the government is trying to contrive a position where you're either for mandatory filtering or you're for child porn. I sense a similar false equivalence with video games.

    And since we're on the topic of censorship, I wish there was some consistency between the ratings of different forms of objectionable content. Just looking at the covers of some horror movies in the video shop is enough to give me nightmares, but they're right there in the new releases at child's eye level. Yet anything that shows a pair of breasts is put in an opaque cover and hidden up the back in the dirty-old-man section. Given the difference between how "deplorable" the two things are, I think that's a pretty fucked up set of priorities. Even if brutality is central to the plot of a film (a dubious claim, most of the time) I think people have to get real and acknowledge that such violence is pornography to a lot of people. I once read a post on a forum where a guy was raving about the film Hostel and as he described some of the scenes, it was obvious he was getting his rocks off over it just as surely as if it were a skin flick.

    Who did nudity ever hurt? Within reason of course.

    Thanks for letting me know about Hack. I'll check out the podcast.

  6. Do Australia's current leaders realise that even the Chinese are laughing at them?

    Signed, Anonymous

  7. Kev might, since he speaks the language but I think the irony that they're attempting the same thing for allegedly different reasons is lost on them.

    China claims its firewall is to stop pornography too.

  8. "However most of the time, people like Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell will use them to whip up some fake outrage...among an audience that would never have heard of the material otherwise, so who would it hurt?"

    I'm so with you on that. I often think that bringing some of these things to people's attention is almost as bad as being the one who stands to profit from having created it...like the Cronulla riots...I blame the media for that getting as big and as out of hand as it was, half the bogans there weren't even from Cronulla, they'd just headed over coz of what had been 'predicted' on the news!

    My theory with the ratings issue (aside from my obvisouly contradicting views), is that ultimatley in the end it's up to a parent to ensure that their child is kept away from games that are inapropriate, I couldn't imagine most parents would buy or allow their young child to play something with an R-rating, and in the end as well, people do need to take responsibiliy for themselves and their kids, we can't expect the government to do it all, otherwise we'd have no freedom to do anything because common sense isn't very common!

    And I totally agree with you on the video covers thing, I totally get what you mean. When I worked in the bookshop I had an argument with my assistant manager about what shelf the sex books should go on in the family section (why they are in family and not maybe health, I don't know....coz it leads to a family?). Her argument was they should be on the bottom shelf because on the top shelf they are at eye level and they make some people uncomfortable and some are quite graphic. My argument was that they should be on the top shelf, because an adult should be able to walk away or ignore them if they are not comfortable with them and a child won't bother with a top shelf of books, which in most cases is twice as tall as them anyway, but a child will see them at the bottom and more often than not pull them off the shelf (as kids seem to have to do in bookshops!), and they are certainly not appropriate for children! Needless to say I won that argument, but I've always wondered that. One video store near where I live used to have a porn section that was wedged between the documentaries and kids section! I mean come on! What are they thinking! Someone must have complained though, as their porn section is pretty much hidden in a corner now with no covers face out!