I had been contemplating writing some posts about the South Australian election, coming up on 20 March.
But it seems that if I am to do so, either on Larvatus Prodeo, or on my own blog, I must publish my full name, and my post code. That’s what section 116 of the Electoral Act 1985 (South Australia) says. Check the story in The Advertiser.
This law change came into effect on January 6 this year, and was pushed through last year as part of a suite of changes to the Electoral Act. The opposition Liberal party supported the change.
Here’s the relevant piece of legislation.
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.
(a) if the offender is a natural person—$1 250;
(b) if the offender is a body corporate—$5 000.
(2) This section does not apply to—
(a) the publication in a journal (including a journal published in electronic form on the Internet) of a leading article;
(b) the publication of a report of a meeting that does not contain any comment (other than comment made by a speaker at the meeting) on any candidate, or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors;
(c) the publication in a journal (including a journal published in electronic form on the Internet) of an article, letter, report or other matter if—
(i) the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material is provided to the publisher of the journal and retained by the publisher for a period of 6 months after the end of the election period; and
(ii) the journal contains a statement of the name and postcode of the person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material;
(ca) the publication of a letter (otherwise than as described in paragraph (c)) that contains the name and address (not being a post office box) of the author of the letter;
(d) a news service or a current affairs programme on radio or television or broadcast on the Internet;
(e) any other prescribed material or class of material.
(3) In this section—
journal means a newspaper, magazine or other periodical.
I’ve long blogged semi-anonymously, but you could find my full name if you tried a little. But why on earth should I reveal my postcode, just in order to make a comment on an election?
I feel silenced. So much so that I am reluctant to comment on this story, other than to let you know about the issue. It’s not an election issue, not something that is about ” the issues being submitted to electors” because as far as I know, this issue wasn’t placed in front of electors at all, other than through normal parliamentary legislative procedures. Even so, I feel concerned that if I speak too loudly, I could be targetted by our parliamentary overlords.
You may not hear much from me about the South Australian elections after all.
Update: South Australia’s Attorney-General clearly thinks that the legislation applies to blogs. See this video on AdelaideNow (the website of the local newspaper, The Advertiser): Atkinson defends new web laws.
I’ve prepared a transcript, which is as accurate as I can manage. I haven’t tried to put one or two lexical hesitations in. He was obviously responding to questions; the paragraph breaks mark where the video shifts slightly to indicate a transition between one answer and another.
The electoral act ensures honesty in political commentary. This is all about honesty. When people read letters to the editor and blogs they know that they’re reading a real person.
All 69 state MPs voted for this. Not one person that I can recall spoke out against it.
To those relentless anonymous bloggers who want to defame people I say, do your worst outside the campaign period but that three or four weeks of the general election, let’s be civilised and have honesty and truthfulness in our political discourse.
The Advertiser / AdelaideNow website has almost no moderation whatsoever.
I don’t who is moderating the AdelaideNow website, but their knowledge of defamation law would fit comfortably on the back of a postage stamp.
No doubt there’ll be difficulties in enforcing it; the law may be mocked; all we can do is pass what we think is a virtuous and decent law which accords with public values.
News Limited is a multi-billion dollar international organisation (and) someone like me has no hope of standing up against News Limited and criticising them but I will speak the truth and I will speak it courageously and News Limited won’t stop me.
Or, shorter Atkinson: “It’s all about ME!”