What happens when censorship breaks down?

Stephen Conroy has partially backed down on his mandatory internet filtering proposal. This includes revisiting the issue of what should be in the ‘Refused Classification’ category that the filter would be designed to catch.

This is a good move, because as I have argued before this is the real issue here. Conroy wasn’t ever planning to censor anything new; he was trying to adapt the existing censorship rules to a new form of communication. Apart from the issue of false positives in assessing what material was RC and some probably minor issues with internet speed, it wasn’t clear why we should have one set of censorship rules online and another set applying to DVDs, magazines, cinemas etc.

As it happens, the 15 or so years in which the internet has been a big social phenomenon have been a case study in what happens when a censorship regime breaks down. Others are more expert in this than I am, but it is not obvious to me that we can draw many if any straight lines between a de facto absence of censorship and major new social problems.

7 Responses to “What happens when censorship breaks down?

  • 1
    John Farrell
    July 10th, 2010 05:44

    Censorship seems so 19th century. It seems to me our society’s values have changed a lot since the ’50s, but the rules we have to preserve them change much more slowly. Conroy’s just not up to date. I’d like to see the RC category mostly replaced by a “Tacky and Boring But If You Must You Can Look At It” category.

  • 2
    LibertarianLach
    July 10th, 2010 16:40

    The internet is a case study in what happens when you have zero government regulation: no wonder it has been a phenomenal success. We should be seeking to apply the principals of the net to public policy, not the other way round.

  • 3
    fitzroyalty
    July 10th, 2010 20:06

    The review of RC is well overdue. It’s absurd that you can legally buy still images of sex act A but not moving images of the same act, and that rules about physical media have been applied without alteration to electronic media.

    Of course the government will not acknowledge that it has been trying hard to ban pornography in general to earn religious votes. For more, see http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/2010/07/09/the-alp-and-the-government-fear-and-hate-sexuality/

  • 4
    Andrew Norton
    July 10th, 2010 20:36

    Fitzroyalty – ‘Moving images of the same act’ are legal under the X category provided it doesn’t depict violence or a few other more extreme things. The states ban the sale of X-rated materials but it is legal under federal law (and wasn’t to be included in the filter).

    On your post, some RC content is illegal to possess, as a certain former presenter of Collectors is finding out the hard way (allegedly).

    Much though not all of what RC covers is pretty bad, and you would not have to be a churchgoer to have your doubts about whether it should be permitted. While ACL have been pushing the filter, there is more to this than ‘religious votes’.

  • 5
    caf
    July 12th, 2010 14:45

    On the other hand there are categories of material that are currently RC that are simply fetishes, distasteful perhaps to many, but certainly not falling into “clearly should be banned” territory. I tried to post a short list of such material, but the blog software appears to be too prudish for them!

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    July 12th, 2010 16:19

    Caf – Indeed, it is in the spam filter. I might leave it there. Readers who want to know what they are can do so here.

    I agree with you that some of the RC material is distasteful and likely to be material than viewers of X-rated videos would generally not want to see. But that is not the same as saying it is sufficiently harmful to warrant banning it.

  • 7
    caf
    July 13th, 2010 14:34

    Andrew – I totally agree. I don’t think simple “distastefulness” should be sufficient reason for banning at all, and I think that much of what is banned now oughtn’t be.