Friday, March 19, 2010

Conroy in a pickle

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders last week put Australia on its list of countries "under surveillance" in its recent "Internet Enemies" report.

Australia joins the company of countries in danger of making the main enemies list which includes Russia, Turkey and South Korea.

The report added that in South Korea; "draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship".

According to the report, China, Iran and Tunisia who have been named "Enemies of the Internet", got more sophisticated at censorship and overcoming dissidents' attempts to communicate online.

Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda - Stephen Conroy, protected under parliamentary privilege from real world accountability, attempted to mitigate the reports implications by attacking Electronic Frontiers Australia.

Prompted by the Reporters Without Borders report, Queensland Liberal Senator Sue Boyce asked Conroy if he had stifled national debate on internet filtering by "branding critics as child pornography advocates".

In reply Conroy said:
"The material that has been supplied to Reporters Without Borders comes from Electronic Frontiers Australia, who have been challenged publicly on a number of occasions to produce a quote where I have ever said that."

"Electronic Frontiers Australia have run one of the most disgraceful misinformation campaigns and have misled Australians."

"I challenge each and every one of you to come up with such a quote, because it does not exist."

But EFA immediately did produce two such quotes:
In one of the first public pronouncements of the policy, the Minister stated:
"If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."
On another occasion, when answering a question on the filter put to him by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam during a Senate Estimates hearing, the Minister dodged the question using this device:
Senator Ludlam – Just let me finish. In terms of the countries that you have just listed for me, it is mandatory or is it an opt-in system that, for example, concerned parents could take advantage of?
Senator Conroy – Illegal material is illegal material. Child pornography is child pornography. I trust you are not suggesting that people should have access to child pornography.

After laying down the challenge to find such a quote, Conroy (without irony) went on to say:
"Anyone who tries to suggest that anything other than material included in the RC classification is subject to the filter is misleading all Australians. Let me be very clear: the material under the RC classification is material like child pornography."

EFA asserts that RWB have never contacted them for opinion or briefing on this matter.

One commenter at EFA points out:
"All you have to do to make something “RC” is to simply refuse it. What a twit."

Very true, Refused Classification material already includes content that "instructs or promotes" acts of crime like safe drug use, graffiti art and euthanasia.

Adult content depicting particular fetishes is also RC, in example "golden showers". Recently female ejaculation was reviewed to be included under the later category. It has also been proposed that small breasted women in sexual contexts be refused classification.

But can we trust the government of the day to only ever apply a filter to RC content; even though that in itself can grow to incorporate anything they chose?

Just one year ago Conroy himself was flagging that the compulsory filtering would be based upon the ACMA blacklist of prohibited websites. After much outcry, making sh*t up on the fly, the Minister back flipped to announce official filtering policy was now strictly about denying access to RC, a subset of the blacklist which contained legal adult material.

This got the Australian Christian Lobby all hot and bothered who accused the government of breaking its election promise to censor the internet.

ACL managing director Jim Wallace said of the change to RC content filtering only;
"That doesn't meet the election promise as far as we're concerned at all. The promise was clearly about providing a safer internet environment for children and to do that you need to mandatorily block in the first instance pornography and R18+, and then provide an opt-in system for those adults who want to access it."

Even if Conroy can continue to dodge the wrath of the fundamentalist ACL and maintain a course of RC filtering, as apposed to filtering all online adult pleasures, this would still be an assault on freedom of speech.

Recently the minister called upon Google to censor all videos on its YouTube website in accordance with the filtering scheme. Google Australia politely told him to go f*ck himself, saying:
"The scope of RC is simply too broad and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information. RC includes the grey realms of material instructing in any crime from [painting] graffiti to politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia, and exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy."

Poor Stephen, he’s alienated just about all internet users and the internet industry for planning to over filter, while the zealous filter advocates are p*ssed that his plan doesn’t censor nearly enough.

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