Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Campaigning against censorship

A couple of times I've challenged those criticising the Labor Party's Internet filtering plan that they really sound like they should be mounting a campaign against existing censorship and classification laws, not filtering as such. At least my regular commentator Bob Bain seems to have a genuine interest here, and makes lots of valid points about the inconsistency of various State Laws - but the hotch potch of our Federation isn't easy to solve.

In the context of the Internet filtering controversy it is the Federal law that matters. And that law as it applies to other content does have the feature that content classifications can be appealed.

But before the current round of campaigners get too carried away I thought we should think about the anti-censorship campaigns of the past. The death of John Mortimer gave the opportunity for Felix Dennis, one of the three he defended in the Oz trial, to write a new short recount of that trial.

The interesting thing about it was that the trial was pursued as a conspiracy trial with potentially open-ended penalties. The editors found it hard to find legal representation, a fact that Dennis attributes to political machinations. Subsequent investigations revealed corruption in Scotland Yard in policing pornography and the fact that Oz was singled out for political reasons rather than moral ones (as it represented the "alternative society").

Despite the fact that Oz had its origins down-under our own censorship battles waged into the 70s. The SMH published a story under the titleThe Filth and the Fury in 2004 to coincide with an exhibition on censorship. It recounts some of the the tales of our other counter culture publishers.

[Wendy] Bacon admits she and her supporters - anarchists, libertarians and non-authoritarian socialists - were primarily interested in publishing anything that was forbidden. Whether a poem or article had any literary merit was irrelevant; adults should be free to read or see whatever "turned them on". Challenging authority through an attack on censorship was a form of "direct action". In the end it became the only raison d'etre of Tharunka (and its later forms, Thorunka and Thor).

it goes on

Though the immediate reaction of most people gazing at the innocuous exhibits in the exhibition will be one of bafflement - why would a censor be looking at that? - it's also a timely reminder that Government restrictions on what adults can and cannot see is still a sensitive issue in Australian politics, though formal censorship has been replaced by a classification system.

I don't think the current battle matches that battle at all. However, it does remind us that we should never relax and never be satisfied that "the Government" is acting appropriately.

But they are things that can be addressed through scheme design. It would be nice if the sound and the fury can be directed at that rather than notional point scoring about who said what when.

1 comment:

  1. The exhibition you mention was "In the Realm of the Censors" (held at a library close to the Rocks here in Sydney). Some of the exhibits were cautiously approved by I believe Bob Debus. Here are some notes I made as I attended most (if not all) of the sesssions although I may have only made notes in respect of three.

    This talk was by way of a conversation between David Marr and Frank Moorhouse and I noted the discussion was vigorous both in tone and in language, noting that whenever I've heard David Marr speak he tends to speak his mind in a somewhat vigorous manner (as exhibited at the discussion sessions at the Museum of Contemporary Art early last year regarding the Bill Henson case).


    I wrote then:


    I believe it was David Marr who noted that he could quote the addresses of a dozen or so stores which sell "legitimate X rated movies" in contravention of state laws, noting that it was a belief that "some public official is being corrupted" and that (possibly) "somebody's on the take" which I believe he may find unacceptable (as I do).

    An honest uncensored person does not (IMHO) find corruption or possible corruption an acceptable alternative to censorship.

    And BTW around 30% of the titles marked "X" on sale in Sydney are not and have never been rated "X" by the OFLC.


    This was a discussion between Fiona Giles and David Haines (former Deputy censor of the Commonwealth of Australia )


    Speaking of David Haines I wrote:

    He noted that most pornographic material he had seen was/is absolute rubbish (or words to that effect). I believe the term he used was "becoming punch drunk from watching absolute rubbish".

    He noted that one censor had a psychological test prior to becoming a censor and a second test on relinquishing the position with the outcome being that she had seemingly become "more tolerant" or perhaps "more sensitive to censorship issues" (scribbled notes).

    He then went on to explain how he was later enticed into producing a pornographic film himself noting that David was lured to become a pornographic films producer with his first work (producer not actor) seemingly being "Buffy Down Under" which cost $70,000 to make and sold in "X" and "R" versions some 16,000 copies.

    It was then noted that:-

    David seemed to indicate that male actors were/are terrible at reading / remembering lines which he seemed to regard as a shame given that his scripts were meant to be humorous (at least for the "R" rated versions).

    Extracts from Buffy Down Under (explicit sex scenes removed) can be found on YouTube and one can sense the humour David was aiming towards.

    Sadly the film is far far too long - close to two hours and was sold for a discount price being a well worn VHS tape which most adult stores are keen to get rid off as they take up far too much shelf space.

    YouTube snippets from the film (no sex):-


    YouTube notes:-

    These extracts from the "X" rated (viewed and approved by the Australian censors) movie "Buffy Down Under" concentrate on the essence of the "plot" - the linguistic differences between Australia and the United States - and the pleasant scenery in Sydney Australia.

    This is an "X" rated film produced in Australia by David Haines (former Deputy Censor of the Commonwealth of Australia) - legal to sell and own in all states of Australia but only legal to sell in the Australian Capital Territory (the centre of Government in Australia).

    This is from a copy legally purchased in Sydney, but arguably illegally sold (a criminal offence subject to imprisonment in the State of New South Wales - and all states of Australia at September 2008).

    The movie is listed in the Internet Movie Database.


    It is noted from the nocensorshipaus forum (listed) that David discussed the production of this movie during a series of talks held in Sydney under the banner "In the Realm of the Censors" in 2004.


    In this talk Helen Vnuk talked about her book "Logged Off"


    Question (2004) with Australia under "the conservative influence" of the Liberal Party..

    In your opinion does the OFLC act as a political tool for the government of the day rather than a reflection of the contemporary population's views? How could this be improved?


    A lot of people want to blame John Howard for the OFLC's decisions, but I don't know whether things would be very different under a Labor government. There are very strong conservative forces in both major parties at the moment, as well as some vocal conservative independents, and that's why a lot of censorship rulings don't reflect the contemporary population's views.


    Now we have Senator Conroy proving Ms. Vnuk correct in her observations. I do have a copy of the book.