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Police silent over day of reflection enforcement

The law banning publication of political material a day before the election applies to internet posts as well as traditional media.

The law banning publication of political material a day before the election applies to internet posts as well as traditional media.

A law banning the publication of political material a day before the election also applies to internet posts but lawyers are questioning its practicality.

Stephen Tonna Lowell and Michael Zammit Maempel said the law’s wording was wide enough to encompass the internet, even though when it was drafted in 1991 a public-access internet did not even exist.

Apart from a clear reference to traditional print and broadcast media, the law mentions “any other means of communication”.

The legislator wanted the law to cover any other new means of communication that may not have existed in 1991, according to Dr Tonna Lowell.

The traditional media have long observed the law but the onset of internet campaigning in the 2008 election created a conundrum as to whether the General Elections Act also applied to the web.

While this question has been answered, the proliferation of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites since then has raised questions as to whether traditional media have been put at a disadvantage.

Dr Tonna Lowell said the police could prosecute those who breached the law without waiting for a complaint. But while it was easy to determine whether traditional media breached the ban, the complexity of the internet made this exercise more complicated.

“The police will have to prove their case in court and so they will have to conduct a proper investigation to determine whether the information was actually uploaded on the day of reflection or election day,” Dr Tonna Lowell said.

Acknowledging the difficulty of policing the internet, he added that evidence had to be strong enough to warrant a conviction in court.

Coming up with the evidence may be a cumbersome and impractical process that fuels the question as to how the internet can be controlled.

Dr Zammit Maempel said if the law was applied literally nobody could even post a political status on Facebook or tweet something that could potentially influence voters.

“But the law must not be interpreted in a literal sense. Logic and good reason should prevail,” he insisted, adding that people accessed the internet of their own volition.

The law was flouted with impunity by some internet users five years ago.

The situation is bound to repeat itself but questions sent to the police on whether they will prosecute individuals who infringe the day of reflection online remained unanswered by the time of going to print.

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