Australian government proposes jail terms for satire

Juice Media is a company whose "Honest Government Adverts" Youtube series lampoon both the Australian government's decisions and the way it promotes them. Juice's videos are very funny, and very, very obviously parodies (they spell "Australian" wrong!).

The Australian government hates Juice Media, and has proposed an jailable offense (with 2-year prison sentences) for "impersonating a government agency." The law carves out an exemption "solely for genuine satire," and leaves it up to the government to decide what is, and isn't, "genuine."

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?

Government lawyers failing to understand satire is hardly unique to Australia. In 2005, a lawyer representing President Bush wrote to The Onion claiming that the satirical site was violating the law with its use of the presidential seal. The Onion responded that it was “inconceivable” that anyone would understand its use of the seal to be anything but parody. The White House wisely elected not to pursue the matter further. If it had, it likely would have lost on First Amendment grounds. Australia, however, does not have a First Amendment (or even a written bill of rights) so civil libertarians there are rightly concerned that the proposed law against impersonation could be used to attack political commentary. We hope the Australian government either kills the bill or amends the law to include both a requirement of intent to deceive and a more robust exemption for satire.

Australian Government Wants to Give Satire The Boot [Daniel Nazer/EFF]

Australian Lawmakers Propose Outlawing Parody, Having A Sense Of Humor

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