SA government to retract censorship law in election lead-up

Online bloggers revolt

South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, will repeal a controversial law to curb online election commentary.

Atkinson and News Limited's Adelaide Advertiser locked horns in a fierce clash in which the Attorney-General reproached the publication for allegedly allowing unmoderated comments on its Adelaide Now website.

He told News Limited the paper's knowledge of defamation "would fit comfortably on the back of a postage stamp" and he has "no hope" of standing up against (News Ltd)... a multi-billion international organisation".

Atkinson dubbed the law "virtuous and decent ... that accords with public values".

The reform of Section 2, Part 116 of the Electoral Act 1985 came into effect early last month after it was unanimously supported by both sides of state politics. It requires legitimate names and addresses to be supplied for people posting online comments to state election stories by South Australian news outlets.

Thousands of News Limited readers opposed the amendment of the 70-year-old Electoral Act, which would have introduced the same verification requirements for online comments as those used in letters-to-the-editor.

The full name and postcode of readers would be publicly displayed along comments posted on local newspapers in the lead-up to state elections.

Privacy adovacates told Computerworld the move could result in physical reprisal attacks against readers who could be easily identified, saying it flies in the face of government advice that users remain anonymous online.

Atkinson said readers should remain "civil" in the lead up to elections and added the law would reduce defamation.

He later told News Limited the law would be repealed immediately following the state election after he received “feedback" from "the blogging generation".

Atkinson's office had not issued a statement at the time of publication.

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