The National Symbols Officer of Australia recently wrote to Juice Media, producers of Rap News and Honest Government Adverts, suggesting that its “use” of Australia’s coat of arms violated various Australian laws. This threat came despite the fact that Juice Media’s videos are clearly satire and no reasonable viewer could mistake them for official publications. Indeed, the coat of arms that appeared in the Honest Government Adverts series does not even spell “Australian” correctly.
It is unfortunate that the Australian government cannot distinguish between impersonation and satire. But it is especially worrying because the government has proposed legislationthat would impose jail terms for impersonation of a government agency. Some laws against impersonating government officials can be appropriate (Australia, like the U.S., is seeing telephone scams from fraudsters claiming to be tax officials). But the proposed legislation in Australia lacks sufficient safeguards. Moreover, the recent letter to Juice Media shows that the government may lack the judgment needed to apply the law fairly.
In a submission to Parliament, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights explains that the proposed legislation is too broad. For example, the provision that imposes a 2 year sentence for impersonation of a government agency does not require any intent to deceive. Similarly, it does not require that any actual harm was caused by the impersonation. Thus, the law could sweep in conduct outside the kind of fraud that motivates the bill.
The proposed legislation does include an exemption for “conduct engaged in solely for genuine satirical, academic or artistic purposes.” But, as critics have noted, this gives the government leeway to attack satire that it does not consider “genuine.” Similarly, the limitation that conduct be “solely” for the purpose of satire could chill speech. Is a video produced for satirical purposes unprotected because it was also created for the purpose of supporting advertising revenue?
Read the full post at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.