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Oz registrar closes John Howard satire site

Iraq 'apology' blocked at PM's behest

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An Australian domain name registrar has bowed to pressure from the office of PM John Howard and shut down a satirical website resembling that of the Oz supremo and carrying an "apology" for the war in Iraq, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Veteran satirist Richard Neville's johnhowardpm.org - registered with Melbourne IT and hosted by Yahoo! - was blocked on Tuesday after just 24 hours online during which it attracted 10,500 hits. Neville told the SMH that a representative of the registrar confirmed by phone that the site had been "closed on the advice from the Australian Government".

Melbourne IT CTO Bruce Tonkin explained that the shutdown was "in response to a request from the Prime Minister's office on the basis that it looked too similar to its own site".

He added: "If we receive a complaint from an intellectual property basis claiming that a website directly infringes the rights of another site we would check it, and if it is a direct copy we would suspend the site."

The issue, however, appears not to be one of infringement, or even objections to the site's content. "The issue of whether or not the content was satirical was of no consequence to Melbourne IT," the ISP said, with Tonkin explaining that johnhowardpm.org "looks like a phishing site".

Neville rejected "any similarities between a satirical website and a phishing operation, which would typically carry an intent of data or financial theft".

Neville said he'd chosen Yahoo! as host because it "did not have any obvious policies that restricted the nature of content that could be published", adding: "If there were objections to the content on the site, isn't there a democratic tradition that I be informed of it."

A disgruntled Neville - in response to this act of "culture jamming" - has now posted a PDF version of the Howard "apology" on his own website.

The document doesn't look much like an Oz phishing expedition, although the layout certainly has an official feel. Neville should count himself lucky that he lives in a country where the democratic tradition allows this sort of thing at all. Were he being hosted by Yahoo! in China, he'd quite likely be right now languishing in a Beijing helljail with electrodes attached to his 'nads. ®

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