SA net censorship claims "overblown"

Attorney General's office returns serve on net censorship claims

The South Australian Attorney General has poured cold water on claims tougher laws will affect political comment on talkback radio and social networking sites in the lead up to state elections.

The reform of Section Two, Part 116 of the Electoral Act 1985 came into effect early last month and requires legitimate names and addresses to be supplied for people posting online comments to state election stories by South Australian news outlets.

The move ruffled the feathers of media outlets in the state which - through The Right to Know Coalition of News limited, Fairfax, the ABC, the SBS, and AAP labeled the laws “draconian”, according to News Limited's <i>Adelaide Advertiser</i>.

But the media minder for the state's AG, Robert Malinauskas - a former cadet journalist for The Advertiser – said claims that the laws would apply to talkback radio or social networking are false.

“It is not true – Facebook severs are located overseas [and] talkback radio is governed by Commonwealth law,” Malinauskas said.

“[The law] prevents defamation... it is an extension to online of 70-year old existing law that requires media to verify the details of people sending in letters to the editor.”

Media organisations say the law is excessive because online posts and talkback radio comments are already moderated and checked for defamation before being published.

The amendment to the Electoral Act was passed last year and will slap news agencies with a $5000 fine for withholding names and addresses from the Electoral Commissioner.

Malinauskas confirmed the law requires news outlets to publish first and last names of those commenting on elections, along with their postcodes.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson locked horns with The Advertiser saying News Limited will “publish false stories about me, invent things about me to punish me" and dubbed its AdelaideNow Website “a sewer of identity theft and fraud".

The law has also seen accusations emerge that the state government is running a “secret state”, fueled by allegations that it has left hundreds of political questions unanswered for years.

The state goes to the polls on March 20 this year.

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