Four Corners tonight tackled internet censorship in an episode entitled “Access Denied”. For a debate ruled, like most debates, by sound bites – “child pornography”, “censored like North Korea” – I was excited to see the issue get a detailed examination over 40-odd minutes of quality investigative journalism.
I thought they did a good job. There was, as usual in this discussion, much emphasis on the evil content on the internet without really pointing out how the vast majority of people use the internet the vast majority of the time without any unpleasantness whatsoever. There was, for some reason, a lot of filler shots of porn sites themselves. But several sides of the debate got an airing that we wouldn’t normally hear. At about 12 minutes in, teenager Justin Katz is asked about whether kids need to be protected from nasty material, and he says exactly what you’d expect from a sane person: “I think if you just have common sense and the right attitude you don’t need to be protected from anything, that with just a straight mind you’ll know what’s right and you’ll know what’s wrong.”
The pro-filter camp included some of the usual suspects like Jim Wallace and Clive Hamilton. Clive did not disappoint with his rhetoric about “perverse and extreme sexual practices”. The phrase “penetrated in every orifice” quickly made an appearance along with “bestiality” and “copraphilia.” (Eww. I start to worry about what’s on Clive’s hard drive for research purposes.) Unfortunately for my self-image someone on twitter pointed out that Clive and I look somewhat similar: “Clive Hamilton and Colin Jacobs are both bald w/glasses. But Clive has the look of a man who doesn’t get laid much.” Thanks, @renailemay.
I also though the producers did a good job highlighting the democratic dangers and putting the lie to the government’s “child pornography” rhetoric by showing some much more controversial material that would be blocked, and is currently prohibited. The oldies learning about proxies and the outraged anti-abortion candidate certainly illustrated this important point.
I also found it surprising that they discussed how the current classification scheme applies to normal adult material, with Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party showing the audience how some pirate porn needs to split the swashbuckling violence onto a separate DVD to the piratical sex in order to pass classification muster. I think most Aussies have little problem with the idea of adults being able to watch this sort of harmless material, and it was a good and light-hearted counterbalance to the worst-of-the-worst rhetoric we normally get.
I’m in there with a couple of grabs about how the filter was presented to the electorate and how it has since changed. Mark Newton had better material with his final line, though (spoiler alert): “The idea that the internet is this scary place that parents don’t understand, that everyone needs protection from, isn’t a view that’s held by most of society . What it really is is a scary place that politicians don’t understand and politicians need protection from, and that’s why we’re having this debate now.”
The topic was also discussed on Q&A after Four Corners. Kaiser Kuo, who I have followed and read since living in China, had me worried but actually proved to be an eloquent opponent of censorship under all but the most extraordinary circumstances. A poll of the audience showed the overwhelming majority against the filter. Brett Solomon stuck up for us internet-loving nerds with genuine passion. Definitely worth checking out on iView.