South Australia Strikes Again: Attempts To Censor Online Journalism

Duncan Riley - Author
By

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 11:25 p.m. ET

The South Australian Government has proposed a law that will ban the uploading of footage of assaults or “harassment” where those subjected to that activity do not consent, as part of its ongoing jihad against online publishing and commentary.

The proposed law, that is claimed by the Government to be aimed at preventing people planning assaults and filming them, would deny journalists and citizens in South Australia the right to upload to the internet (previously) legally obtained footage taken in a public space unless the alleged victim approves its online distribution.

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Here’s the kicker, as is not unusual for a Government obsessed with censoring the internet (see South Australia implements Internet Censorship On Political Speech) the same restrictions will not apply to traditional media (specifically in the case of video: television stations.) It’s not clear at the time of writing however whether a television station (or newspaper) uploading video to their website would also be affected by the law.

South Australian Attorney General John Rau said such videos are so “disturbing and potentially damaging” the penalties imposed should range from fines to jail sentences for repeat offenders.

You heard that correctly: if you see a crime in the street, record it then upload it to the internet, be it whether you are a journalist or citizen in South Australia, you could be breaking the law under this proposal.

A Serious Problem Requiring a Draconian Solution?

There have been a several incidents of videoed violence involving school children in Australia in the last twelve months, and few would condone kids attacking other kids, filming it and uploading it to YouTube. However these incidents are few and far between, and don’t require the introduction of draconian broadscale censorship to stop them.

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In trying to stop these rare incidents of videoed violence, the South Australian Government wishes to take away the rights of the overwhelming majority of people online who do not undertake such activities. We don’t ban alcohol because some people abuse it, noting that far more people abuse alcohol than plan and upload assaults to the internet.

As it is a legal right still to take a picture in a public place, so it should remain a legal right to take video in a public place and to publish that video as you see fit, be that online or elsewhere. It’s a fundamental freedom in a free society, a point lost on the South Australian Government.

A better solution would be to introduce penalties for those filming assaults where the person filming the assault is proven to have been involved in the planning and execution of the assault. Those assaulting people could also face stiffer penalties where they have planned to film and distribute their work.

Either option is far better than to criminalize the activities of innocent bystanders who happen to catch the action on video.

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