Should the whole censorship regime be relaxed?

There is plenty of negative reaction across the ideological spectrum to Stephen Conroy’s internet censorship plans. You can go to the Fairfax website to cast your vote on it.

I agree that Conroy’s plan should be rejected entirely. But though there are special concerns that the Conroy firewall will catch innocent material and slow the internet, what it is essentially trying to do is enforce the existing censorship regimes (state and federal). If these regimes are worth having, then trying to enforce them is not ridiculous in principle, and the debate is just about the technical issues.

I’m not going to mention in any detail the contents that lead films to get the RC (Refused Classification) rating that Conroy is targeting, as it will cause my blog to get caught by the voluntary filters some firms, homes and public computers use. But you can read them at this link. Some of the sexual material that is banned is gross, but I am not convinced it should be censored. Another more extreme classification could guide consumers of standard X-rated films away from practices they don’t want to see.

This is an opportunity for a broader debate about the role of government in deciding what Australians can and cannot see.

7 Responses to “Should the whole censorship regime be relaxed?

  • 1
    meika
    December 17th, 2009 05:38

    My main concern is that the current and proposed legislation options completely ignore recent social media internet technologies which can already rate and filter sites, these websites (at least their technologies) could and should be leveraged into providing adequate filtering for home use, especially where content on websites is not illegal.

    This would require no ISP filtering. Gains that the National Broadband Network might bring would wasted by the proposed changes in this needless meddling.

    Illegal activities such as child pornography would be better policed if the resources wasted through ISP filtering and supporting the Classifications Board in its cute Victorian Era way were redirected to actual police investigations. These activities are already illegal, weighing down an entire sector with this burden is not a productive use of resources.

    In short: The broad work of Classification Board could easily be ‘wikified’.

    The Classification Board is redundant and it cannot possible hope to cope with the new emerging media realms in the future. However, the same processes that create the emerging internet experiences can also be used to classify it.

    Has this been looked at all?

    My suggestion is that Australian web-browsing users should be linked up in order to the classify the web. This would increase transparency and accountability no end. It would make people browsing the web responsible for rating and filtering content.

    Where values lead to polarised judgement in some areas, end users of a ‘wikified Classification Board’ could choose which adjudicated channel to filter their internet experience. Households could choose a filter to suit their needs, whether righteous, environmental, Roman Catholic or ‘whatever’. (This would require non-anonymity on the part of users providing ratings.)

    Many social media website rating channels, such as stumbleupon.com, already have “no adult” channels on by default. Surely this could be explored.

    Transparency and accountability would be best served by the complete re-structuring of the Classifications Board, and it’s resources re-directed to police work.

    BTW
    I’ve noticed Optus has put up a “Sure thing Conroy!” response. Do not Singaporean interests, government retirement investment vehicles, own a major portion of Optus. Is the Singapore government not one of the more paternalistic baboon-like governments in the world?

  • 2
    LibertarianLach
    December 17th, 2009 07:21

    The entire reason why the internet has been remarkably successful is that it has essentially zero government regulation in most parts of the world (in favor of self-regualtion)

    Indeed it also serves the purpose of subverting coercive government regulation in most other parts of the private sector. Take for example the rudd govts refusal to remove parallel import restrictions on books, no worries – just log on to amazon. Want to get hold of unwatered down copies of PC games released overseas? Good for that too.

    The people have realised the value-add of having no government regulation and the feds are running scared. Their business model will be in ruin if the internet proceeds in making their onerous regulations redundant, hence the attempt to bring it under their legislative umbrella.

  • 3
    caf
    December 17th, 2009 08:40

    The existing censorship regime is overly restrictive – many things appear to be banned simply on the grounds of taste. It is certainly due for an overhaul. I’ve seen Ken Park (anyone remember that controversy?) and there’s no way it justified a banning.

    One important difference with the current classification system is that at least we know what has and hasn’t been banned, and why – that information is on the public record. When it comes to the Internet, the list of banned material is itself a secret; the decisions to censor are therefore secret and unreviewable too.

    Fun fact: The first ever feature-length film was Australian (The Story Of The Kelly Gang), and it was banned in South Australia and New South Wales because it depicted bushrangers!

  • 4
    Charles
    December 17th, 2009 15:38

    Even though it was designed in the 70′s I believe the original designers met their design goal. Conroy’s filter will be treated as network damage and the system will deal with it; if there are people interested in dealing with it. The sin is the amount of money being wasted.

  • 5
    Fitzroyalty
    December 18th, 2009 08:02

    We already face harsh and politically motivated censorship of information about voluntary euthanasia. What will be next? Abortion, safe(r) sex, anti-discrimination politics, gay rights?

    This whole campaing is a giant straw man. More money should be spent on catching child abusers, not banning adults from consuming content made for, by and featuring consenting adults.

    We already have the absurdity that particular sexual fesishes can legally be shown in print magazines sold in Australia, but not in moving images (eg in DVDs). Expanding this stupidity to the net makes no sense.

  • 6
    em
    December 19th, 2009 10:24

    Recommended analysis.

    It’s by Irene Graham, who has been interested in internet censorship issues since 1995.

  • 7
    Robert Merkel
    December 19th, 2009 10:24

    Ken Park was refused classification because it combined “real” sex with violence. The R classification nominally bans “real” sex, the X classification bans violence entirely.

    Yes, the classification system should be reviewed and in large part binned.