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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Censorship - Labor's hidden policy

Here's an excellent article on Labor's proposal to censor the internet, which has still not gone away despite a change of prime minister. Senator Conroy continues to treat people who are concerned about freedom of speech and worried about scope creep as somehow being friends of pedophiles and child pornographers.

A nice sample:

Although Senator Conroy plays down the impact of the filter, saying that determined people can get around it if they really want to, critics are concerned that Conroy's non-policing of filter circumvention will not be mirrored by future governments who may also broaden the scope of the censorship it affords. He told Four Corners, that he "absolutely guaranteed" that no future Labor government would let this happen and subsequently that "If a majority of the Parliament in the future want to broaden the classification, well then, Australians should stand up and say 'just a minute', and I'll be one of them." We contacted Conroy's office to ask how the Senator guaranteed this would not happen but the question was not answered. The notion that all future Australian governments will be formed by Labor is optimistic of Conroy to say the least. That future governments, intent on censorship (probably under banners of "child protection" and "terrorism"), would listen to people "standing up and saying 'just a minute'" is more optimistic yet, given the contempt Conroy himself has shown to all the people disagreeing with him.

Kudos to Nick Ross for preparing this detailed argument against internet censorship, and brickbats to the mainstream media for not running hard with this story.

More brickbats to those commenters on Ross's article who claim it was too long. Do you people have the attention spans of gnats or something? Have any of you ever actually read a frakking novel, or any other kind of book if it comes to that? I, for one, appreciated the detailed analysis.

Still, it can be summed up in a few words: Just Say No To Censorship.

Another sample from earlier in the article:

Championed by Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, the $30million+ filter is being sold by Labor as an internet block for child pornography, bestiality and extreme pornography with 'wide ranging support from the Australian public' and 'only minimal opposition against'.

But after a new, lengthy investigation it transpires that virtually none of this is true. What Australia will get from this internet filter is a framework for censorship that doesn't stop "the worst of the worst" but will absolutely curtail discussion on politically incorrect topics like euthanasia, safe drug taking and graffiti while banning relatively-tame adult content.

Below we examine the filter from the point of view of the people who know most about it, Australia's tech community, which in the past week has united in one last ditch attempt to bring Labor's censorship policy into the open and bring its discussion into the mainstream media in the run up to the election.

This proposal is supported by a small group of interfering religionists, prudes, all-purpose nutcases with no understanding of the internet, and extreme social conservatives. Somehow they have managed to hijack policy in this area. It's time to take it back.


Anonymous said...

The issue with the article Russell is that it is in principle just a regurgitation of what has been said ad nauseum before, introduces nothing new and has added no new insights to the debate. It adds some exposure but does not get around the simple fact that the average Australian, who will make up the majority of voters, is simply not convinced by so many assertions and interpreted meanings from Conroys and the ALP's actions and policy.

In a country where censorship has been around for over 100 years, and has not degenerated to political misuse in all that time, broader Australia simply gives no credence to the doomsday assumption that internet censorship will corrupt the classification board and future govts all of a sudden.

The continual claim that the tech community knows best has fallen and will continue to fall on deaf ears, especially when the public begins to read the language being used and the accusations being levelled at Conroy etc over this issue. They lack credibility and boil over with just to much smarmy outrage, turning off the wider masses.

And just to put the icing on the cake Russell, there are still loose cannons out there comparing Australia to Iran, China, Nth Korea etc due to this policy, which shunts the movement squarely into the radical fringe of public perception.

Russell Blackford said...

I disagree. First, 100 years is nothing. Yes, obviously we've had a stable democracy for, actually, 110 years, but that's a tiny amount of time from which to extrapolate anything. Besides, there has actually been much unjustified censorship in that time. It's only freed up in the last 40 years, and there have been plenty of attempts even in that time to introduce very ugly forms of censorship. That 40 years in the West has been an exceptional period in human history, following from the social revolutions of the 1960s. There's absolutely no guarantee that the freedoms won in that time will be sustained, especially if we don't fight to retain them.

No one says that there will "all of a sudden" be a corruption of the classification board and future governments. Why would anyone suggest that anything like that would happen "all of a sudden"? That is simply not the argument and the article never says such a thing. Admittedly, sometimes there are dramatic events that restrict freedom of speech, as with the British cases about blasphemy and corrupting public morals. But it's usually by way of a series of decisions, each arguable in itself, that freedom of speech is restricted. That's why these decisions have to be fought at each point - it's no use waiting until we wake up in 20 years with far more censorship of what we can say, and having to claw it back all over again as was done in the 60s and 70s.

Your reading of the tone of the article seems completely off to me. It seems to me to be very measured, and getting all this stuff in one relatively high profile place seems like a good idea.

And as for the comparisons elsewhere with Iran, etc., they are precisely called for. Yes, no one is planning to extend such extensive censorship as in those countries "all of sudden". But the comparisons are salient. It's good to be reminded of the sorts of regimes that use internet censorship and of where it can lead.

DM said...


We have orders to EXTERMINATE you and your entire family if continue to talk about GOD and RELIGION the way *you do*

do you got the msg, you stupid little fucker?

GTChristie said...

There's absolutely no guarantee that the freedoms won in that time will be sustained, especially if we don't fight to retain them.

That's the cogent point, along with the article's point that the filter will not be effective on its purported target "porn," while casting its net too wide.

Truth in labeling is better than suppression. Does anyone in Australia discuss the alternative to support the ".xxx" solution, in which adult sites must use the .xxx domain -- so that parents and public places such as schools and libraries can simply filter the domain? Also is there not a principle in Australian jurisprudence (as is sometimes wielded in the USA) that a law is unconstitutional if it is too broad? And how does a legislator remain in office, who proposes a law that is ineffective to control the problem it's meant to solve? In the USA (this works out to be unfortunate sometimes but it is political reality) a politician can pay with his/her career if vulnerable to attack on other fronts. Maybe you oppose a lawmaker's votes on abortion, for instance; it is possible to take that politician out of the game by attacking some other weakness, such as being soft on defense or voting to reduce or eliminate a popular program (for instance). Make common cause with other groups who have their own reasons to defeat a candidate who offends you. It's not cheating and it's damned effective. Just a thought...