If democracy is to be a vibrant thing, the relationship between a state government and the daily newspaper in a one-newspaper city should be uncosy. And that’s exactly what it normally is between the governments in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Hobart and, respectively, the Advertiser, West Australian, Courier-Mail and Mercury.
But uncosy is one thing — the war between Mike Rann’s government and Rupert Murdoch’s Advertiser is quite another.
Today the ‘Tiser and its Adelaide Now website are reporting on the South Australian government’s decision, which came into force on January 6, requiring internet bloggers and anyone making a comment on next month’s SA election to publish their real name and postcode when commenting on the poll. According to the Advertiser‘s editorial comment today:
Such a draconian move should come as no surprise. In many ways, it is entirely predictable … The State Government has long made obvious its distaste for those who disagree with its policies in any form and to any degree whatsoever … The big question here is, can legislation be used in this state to restrict free speech and combat the rise of technology? … The people of South Australia who elected these MPs of both persuasions are having their rights eroded in the most undemocratic fashion.
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To which the South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson — himself a former ‘Tiser sub-editor and journalist for a few years in the 1980s — responded:
The AdelaideNow website is not just a sewer of criminal defamation, it is a sewer of identity theft and fraud … There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else … I am also certain that Advertiser Newspapers and News Limited will punish me personally, viciously for being the attorney-general responsible for this law … You will publish false stories about me, invent things about me to punish me.
These are the rantings and ravings of an unstitched politician whose extreme paranoia presents his own status, as SA’s first law officer, and his government’s status, as a tired administration riddled with controversy, in a terrible light. Less than two months out from an election, he sounds like a man in severe defence mode in need of counselling and possibly medication.
We await the Attorney’s writ for defamation. We have our lunch packed.