Feds tell satirist not to be funny

The offending logo

The National Symbols Office has written to satirical news site The Juice Media asking it to stop using a parody of the Australian government logo on its ‘Honest Government Adverts’ YouTube channel.

The logo misspells ‘Australian’ (as ‘Australien’), has the motto ‘not the real logo’ and substitutes the emu’s head with a toilet roll (and the kangaroo’s with something that appears to be some sort of small screen).

It is hard to see how the Honest Government Adverts logo could be mistaken the real thing. But the Government doesn’t see it that way, and has sent The Juice Media an email:

“The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received complaints from members of the public raising concerns that the content of this website may be mistaken for Australian government material, is the use of the Australian Government logo or an altered use of the logo.

“It will be appreciated if you would ensure that The Juice Media productions do not use the Australian Government logo to avoid the juice media productions being mistaken for Australian Government material.”

The email does not demand that the logo be taken down, merely that it would be appreciated if it were. This is of course like a red rag to a bull to a satirist, and merely gives them more cause to parody the Government and its advertising campaigns.

The government is not currently have the power to enforce the removal of the offending logo. But that will change soon. Freedom of speech site Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) says the letter is worrying in the light of proposed legislation that would impose jail terms for impersonating a government agency.

The proposed bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Impersonating a Commonwealth Body) Bill 2017 [Provisions], is currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is due to report on 13 November.

The bill amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 to make an offence for a person to “recklessly or intentionally representing themselves to be, or to be acting on behalf of, or with the authority of, a Commonwealth entity or service.” Offenders will be liable to jail terms of up to five years.

The legislation contains an exemption for “conduct engaged in solely for genuine satirical, academic or artistic purposes.” The letter to The Juice Media indicates that the Government’s interpretation of ‘genuine’ satire is very narrow. As The Juice Media itself says, would appear to include only things which the Government itself finds funny – not a very wide range of topics.

As is often the case with attempts to censor or restrict speech, the Government’s actions have only served to draw attention to the supposed offence, and to give The Juice Media and its satirical content greater publicity.

The Juice Media has responded to the proposed legislation with its own parody advertisement. Make your own decision on whether any reasonable person could mistake this for a genuine Government advertisement.

But then, as many people have pointed out, there are many aspects of the modern world that are beyond satire. You couldn’t could make some of this stuff up.

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