Forget the breasts, this is serious
Wed 03 Feb, 2010
Sun, sea and… no sex or politics. According to reports Australia has gone censorship crazy, at home and away (on the internet). DAVID JACKMANSON brave the battle of the (bantam) breasts to find out what’s really going on
There’s been plenty of fuss over censorship in Australia this last week, some justified, some a little overblown. A sensationalist claim that ‘small breasts’ have been banned from pornography published in Australia (they haven’t) got attention all over the internet (where else?), while the South Australian Government’s plan to ban anonymous political speech during election times has led to a hammering from the Murdoch press in Adelaide, plus online anger.
First of all, breasts: a media release from the Australian Sex Party, (1) mainly about the banning in Australia of depictions of female ejaculation, also mentioned claims that some magazines featuring models who appeared to be under eighteen years old had been banned, and that the size of the models’ breasts was one of the factors that led to the Classification Board deciding that the models appeared to be under 18. This was reported in the Somebody Think of the Children blog under the shocking headline “Australia Bans Small Breasts”, (2) and this meme spread quickly across the internet (3). Plenty of people online were convinced that the Australian censorship regime banned nude A-cup breasts entirely (4-6), thanks to the headline – which was excellent for whipping up short-lived outrage, but not especially useful in mobilising people against the reality of Australia’s prudish censorship laws.
Even though there is no outright ban on small-breasted women appearing nude in publications released in Australia, there is a ban on pornographic images that appear to be of someone under eigtheen, no matter what the age of the model. This means the Classification Board is in the position of deciding, using secret criteria, what makes a person look under 18. Depictions of fetishes are also banned, even mild ones such as spanking, and so have depictions of female ejaculation, apparently on the grounds that it is urination (even though it has been shown not to be). These laws need a public campaign against them. Since the last great liberalisation of Australian censorship laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s moral authoritarianism has crept back to its default position of power in Australia, and it should be fought. But misleading people about what is happening isn’t much use, and in fact is probably harmful to the anti-censorship cause.
The other story this week broke two days ago on the Adelaide Now website (7), online home of Murdoch newspaper the Advertiser. South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson, one of the country’s most vocal and powerful pro-censorship advocates, introduced amendments to the SA Electoral Act effectively banning anonymous online political speech during the election period, defined as the time between when the SA Governor issues writs for the election to the close of polls at six PM on polling day.
The law is so ill-conceived and poorly drafted that what it actually means is unclear (8), although it appears that anyone submitting a comment to any publication, online or not, must provide the publisher with their name and address which the publisher must keep for six months.
It also appears that the comment must not be published without the full name and postcode of the person making the comment. It is possible, due to the bad drafting of the law, that a single statement by the editor or publisher of a publication that they take responsibility for election comment, along with a full address, may keep you inside the law. The trouble is that to test that theory, you’ll need to defend yourself from criminal charges in a court.
The effect this will have on political debate is obvious: anonymous free speech is fundamental to any right to free speech at all. Of course many people on the internet use anonymity to abuse, defame and generally act like fools, but rather than regulating anonymous speech, it’s up to each and every person to decide how to weigh up what they read and hear.
The new law is also unworkable. I’ve set up a new blog, SA Votes 2010 Uncensored (9), specifically to allow unfettered commentary on the SA election, and former Australian Democrat Senator (and now Greens candidate in the Federal Election) Andrew Bartlett (10), as well as the Rockhate blog (11), have both announced that they will allow anonymous comments on the election.
BREAKING: As I write, the Adelaide Now website (12) and the South Australian Premier’s Twitter account have announced that Mr Atkinson will NOT enforce these laws during the election and the laws will be repealed after the election:
AG has listened. So no debate will be stifled. No political censorship of blogs or on-line comments whether named or anon. (@PremierMikeRann Twitter account) (13)
Which is pretty damn generous of the Attorney-General, no?
(1) Depictions of Female Orgasm Being Banned by Classification Board, Fiona Patten, January 27 2010 Kudos for this piece. Sensationalism isn’t going to actually help us keep censorship and false morality at bay. It’s just going to give those who want to lock down our free speech ammunition in the long run. I see an alarming swing towards moralism in this country at the moment. It needs to be taken on in a calm, concentrated, cohesive manner. Getting yourself on Boing Boing with misinformation is not a wise move.
By Kath on 2010 02 06
(2) Australia Bans Small Breasts, Michael Meloni, January 27 2010
(3) Has Australia Really Banned Small Breasts?, Ruth Brown, January 29 2010
(4) Discrimiation! Australia Bans Small Breasts, Geekologie, January 29 2010
(5) Australian Censor Board Demands Large-Breasted Porn Stars, Cory Doctorow, January 28 2010
(6) Rumour: Australia Bans Porn With Small-breasted Women, Dodai, January 28 2010
(7) Outrage as Rann Government, Opposition unite to gag internet election debate, Andrew Dowdell and Michael McGuire, Februay 2 2010
(8) SA Electoral Amendments and Anonymity Online, Nic Suzor, February 2 2010
(9) SA Votes 2010 Uncensored blog
(10) South Australia Electoral Law to Affect Blogs?, Andrew Bartlett, February 2 2010
(12) Attorney-General Michael Atkinson vows to repeal election internet censorship law amid reader furore, Derek Pedley, February 2 2010
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Kudos for this piece. Sensationalism isn’t going to actually help us keep censorship and false morality at bay. It’s just going to give those who want to lock down our free speech ammunition in the long run.
I see an alarming swing towards moralism in this country at the moment. It needs to be taken on in a calm, concentrated, cohesive manner. Getting yourself on Boing Boing with misinformation is not a wise move.
By Kath on 2010 02 06