A rare defeat for the political cartel

Yesterday almost everyone was condemning the South Australian government for requiring blog commenters to use their real names when offering their views on the South Australian election. Now the South Australian Attorney-General has backed down and says he will repeal the laws retrospectively.

I’m not convinced that the courts would have upheld any attempted blogger prosecutions as within the law. In what appears to be the relevant provision of the SA electoral legislation (s.116), the case would turn on the defintion of an internet ‘journal’. In the legislation, “journal means a newspaper, magazine or other periodical.” Is a blog a journal in that sense?

As with the similar kerfuffle over Stephen Conroy’s proposed internet filter, much of the criticism does not go far enough. In each case, the relevant ministers are trying to extend to the internet regulation that has long applied to other media. Is there something special about the internet that means different rules should apply?

Perhaps the internet is indeed different. From a practical perspective, the laws assume there are strong gatekeepers such as editors, when in reality much of the internet is self-published or has no moderation. And with comments threads, anyone who feels they have been misrepresented can quickly respond, in a way that they cannot with other media.

But these attempts at internet ‘censorship’ raise bigger questions about whether the rules applying to other forms of communication should apply at all. For once Crikey today is saying what I have been saying – that much electoral regulation has far less to do with the integrity of elections and government than it does with the major players rigging the system in their favour. If only Crikey and other media outlets would realise that donations reform is cartel behaviour, and not a way of improving political integrity.

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