Saturday 6 October 2012

Saturday SoapBlog - LNP's next target: what you say online

Just a few short months into the new Queensland State Government, numerous community agencies and advocacy groups, along with many Government departments, most notably Health, have been stripped of funding.  

The Environmental Defenders Office, Tenancy Advocacy, Association of Healthy Communities, FNQ Volunteers, are just some of those that are fighting for their financial survival.  Most of these organisations had contrary views to the conservative Liberal government.

Along with new attitudes to stamp their agenda on the political map, the Queensland State government is now looking at controlling how social media is regulated, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online discussions.  

Welcome to Joh Bjelke-Petersen Version 2.0.

Late last evening, as the early wet season rain cloud swept across the Cairns coastline, 30-year-old Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said that social media websites must be held accountable for removing content which has the potential to influence trials.

It comes as a working group was formed at yesterday's Standing Council on Law and Justice in Brisbane.

The group will look into what they call a "growing problem" of prejudicial comments in online social media. 

“This issue has reared its head in a number of high-profile cases and it is critical for the State and Federal Governments to act now to prevent further problems,” Jarrod Bleijie said. “Irrespective of the context or forum, nobody should be making comments which could have an impact on a trial before the courts.  The problem goes well beyond the individuals and rests with the social media sites that allow them to be posted."

Bleijie says he wants companies behind the website to work with the Government to help find a solution. 

“Creating laws in this space can be problematic as one blanket law is probably not going to suit every jurisdiction.  There is a real opportunity for these organisations to say ‘we will not let our social media sites participate in these activities’ and they should be proactive on the matter,” Bleijie says.

The announcement comes just days after local Federal MP Warren Entsch exposed the identity behind the anonymous Hillbilly Watch blog, that had attacked him with name-calling and a series of criticisms.  Whilst my CairnsBlog had also targeted Entsch in the past, I had always done this under my name and openly discussed issues that I wanted raised and exposed. My only concerns with online commentators and bloggers is that they contribute openly and transparently, and not behind the veil of secrecy  thereby diminishing their argument and losing respect for their position in contributing to the debate.

The Queensland Government has also expressed serious concerns about the time and cost related to making defamation claims against posts on social media.

“A real problem we have is that some organisations are based overseas and do not have offices in Australia. “This makes it virtually impossible for someone in Queensland to pursue defamation action, Jarrod Bleijie says. "There is a great deal of ground to cover in this area, but this working group is a good start in determining the initial plan of attack.”

Bleijie says the new working group will consult social media organisations, news media organisations, justice officials, law enforcements authorities and the courts, before making recommendations.  However this now concerted effort appears more about censorship and control, that will almost definitely attempt to stifle rigorous, free and open debate in the emerging arena of online discussion.  Politicians like Entsch, fear that social media is one forum with they no longer have control, like that have enjoyed for many years under the rules of the old Fourth Estate.

Cairns, for a long while, was dominated by one newspaper, and with print media steering doing the barrel of their own self-inflicted suicide, the rules and the game of public discussion and criticism have been rewritten without the establishment's involvement or sanction, and it's pissing them off greatly.

When I started CairnsBlog in 2007, there were no blogs or online forums with other views from the stable of NewsLtd, and traditional media hadn't embraced or worked out how to address the desire by the masses to share their views in such a dynamic and interactive way.  Now there's a plethora of blogs in Cairns that caters for everything and anyone, no matter how many brain cells you have.

Such  moves by the State government should ring alarm bells for everyone that wants and encourages free and open debate to criticise, humiliate and debate of politicians without fear or favour and without the worry of the thought police knocking on our doors and telling us what we can say.  After all, it is us the people that own and run the internet, and we will continue to advocate and champion the fundamental right of totally free speech.

It's likely that if Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen were alive today, he would be arranging a same-sex union with Premier Campbell Newman and consummating the marriage on the first night.

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