Time for another guest post! Today’s offering is from writer and blogger Loki Carbis, who, in his own words, has ‘a lifelong addiction to pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes’. He blogs about life, popular culture and politics at The Centre Cannot Hold.
Stephen Conroy was in the news again, and as usual, the topic was internet censorship.
It seems that three of our biggest ISPs – Telstra, Optus and Primus – have decided to voluntarily filter material related to child sexual abuse. In a bit of black eye to Conroy, they’re using a list of sites provided by Interpol rather than by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, specifically citing legal issues regarding the authority of the ACMA.
Everyone involved was quick to say that this is not censorship, despite it meeting every part of the definition of the term, and Conroy tried hard to spin this as a victory for his policy, calling it an interim measure while certain issues regarding the jurisdiction of the ACMA were worked out, i.e. the fact that it doesn’t have the legal authority to do what Conroy wants it to, and that the government doesn’t want to try changing the laws when they can’t do it without the cross-benchers’ support.
The lies can be this blatant, because after all, who’s going to stand up and argue against measures aimed at preventing child abuse?
This is despite the fact that it is painfully clear that this is not the only thing the government is out to censor. This is apparent from both from two things: the leaked blacklists we’ve seen to date, and from the ACMA’s own rather generous description of its role.
One of the blacklist leaks we saw last year was a list of categories that would be censored, one of which was swimwear – although I doubt very much that this means we won’t be able to watch Olympic swimming online next year. Another was lingerie, and yet it’s unlikely that the content of new season clothing catalogues will change much either.
As for ACMA, the standard they aim for is that a website “potentially contains child abuse material” rather than actually containing it (emphasis mine). And of course, there’s no burden of proof here – accusation is apparently enough. There’s also no mechanism of notification if your site is blacklisted, and no sanctioned means of appealing that decision.
One of the arguments we’ve heard again and again in this argument is that the internet censorship provision are just one part of a concerted move against child sexual abuse. But if that’s truly the case, the question needs to be asked: why is it that this is the only part we’ve heard anything about?
Even a government as inept at framing and selling policy as the Gillard government has repeatedly shown itself to be must surely recognise that no one is going to oppose increased spending on hunting down paedophiles? You would think that even they can recognise a chance to get the media onside for once, not to mention a golden opportunity to wedge Tony Abbott good and hard – even his automatic urge to criticise any and all government spending might think twice in this case. Not to mention how well this could shore up government credentials on the right. But no, they Gillard government remains committed to its policy of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
There is no increased funding for relevant police units, no new international agreements with other nations and trans-national bodies, no money for advertising campaigns to get the public involved, no increase in the importance of the Working with Children check, or greater stringency being applied in making the check.
Why doesn’t the government go after the producers of child abuse materials directly? After all, that’s the point in this at which the actual sexual abuse occurs – looking at pictures of child sexual abuse isn’t a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it no more abuses the child again than looking at a photo of a corpse kills that person again. Attacking the problem at its source, rather than dealing with a symptom, might just work.
Why, if the government is committed to fighting this fight on a number of fronts, are we only ever hearing about one of them, while the rest of the government’s plans remain as invisible to us as they’d like their blacklists to be?