a few interesting things about our censorship system

I was reading this article on Refused Classification (RC) over at libertus.net and there were a few bits that jumped out at me, either because I wasn’t aware of them or because I’d not thought terribly deeply about them. Here, what do you think?

All web pages are required to be classified as “film”, regardless of their content

According to the Commonwealth Classification Act, a film is defined as “any […] form of recording from which a visual image, including a computer generated image, can be produced”.

Stephen Conroy has repeatedly asserted that RC content can’t be bought “[…] in a bookstore, you can’t go the movies and watch it, you can’t buy a DVD and look at it, and you can’t see it in newspapers. This is material that’s already banned in Australia.”

What he doesn’t mention is that some RC content can be bought in several shops not 10 minutes walk from my house. I’m talking about printed publications that include fetish material. Regardless of your opinion on that kind of material, a description of mild or stronger fetish activity here on this website would be eligible for blocking by the mandatory content filter, but would be perfectly legal to buy in a shop.

Huh. So if fetish material would be RC on the internet (and therefore blocked), I wonder what else would be RC that we might not expect?

Minor Crimes

Conroy also often talks about RC being the “worst of the worst”, child pornography and extreme violence and whatnot. Did you know though, that Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure was refused classification because it “provided elements of promotion of the crime of graffiti”. It was described by The Age as “Set in a city of the future, the game features a world where freedom of expression is suppressed by a tyrannical city government. Players battle the authorities to overthrow corrupt officials using only street fighting skills and graffiti”.

How about a satirical newspaper article in the La Trobe University student paper called “The Art of Shoplifting” being refused classification? There are several other cases of material being refused classification for similar reasons.

Looks like RC is not really the “worst of the worst” then, is it? Actually, it looks like the scope of RC is really pretty broad. Well that’s a bit troubling, because I’ve gotten the impression from Senator Conroy that this material is illegal! Does that mean I’ve been breaking the law if I’ve seen anything like this on the Internet? Actually, it turns out…

In most cases, possession of RC content is legal in Australia (except in WA and the NT)

Yep – as the law stands today, it’s legal to access or obtain via the Internet and to possess most RC material (with the exception of child exploitation/abuse type material). It’s legal for you to possess an RC video game and to play it. It’s legal for you to access and view YouTube videos about graffiti on the Internet. It’s legal for you to own and view personally an RC film like Baise Moi, in your own home. Mandatory content filtering will prevent Internet users from conducting what are currently totally legal activities in their own home.

The upshot

Censorship as applied in Australia today is inconsistent across media, illogical in its application to new technologies and yet for the most part is not applicable when considering personal possession.

With all this talk about the mandatory filter, maybe we’ve missed the broader picture that our censorship system is really quite broken. I really do recommend going and reading that full article on libertus.net if you have the time.