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South Australians were this week up in arms at the propsect of a $5000 fine for posting anonymous comment online in respect of an upcoming state election.

Posters were quick to condemn this as unprecedented state censorship.

The new Australian law came into force on January 6, and makes it an offence for anyone to comment online about state elections (including one shortly to be held in March) unless they also publish their real name and postcode. Failure to do so - even posting under a pseudonym - is now an offence.

Media organisations will be required to keep posters' details on file for six months and face "fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner."

It is likely that the law will also affect anyone posting comment on newspaper websites, and could as easily apply to election comment made on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson claimed, that that the new law was not an attack on free speech. He said: "There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else."

In response, the The Right to Know Coalition, which brings together Australia's major media outlets has called the new laws "draconian". Their spokeswoman Creina Chapman said: "This is one of the most troubling erosions of the right to free speech in Australia for many years."

She also pointed out that newspaper blogs were moderated and publishers and broadcasters took responsibility for the material they published. ®

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