As somebody with a keen interest in free speech issues, I’m naturally predisposed to skepticism when it comes to government censorship. The system we have in Australia serves two purposes; it provides information to consumers (“MA15+ – extreme nudity and wisecracking animals”) and protects Australians from morally inappropriate material, such as spanking or violent video games. The first job has some merit to it – I’ve often looked at the rating of a film myself to get a bit more information on what I’m about to watch, even if I’m hoping for a higher value. The second I don’t have much time for.
The classification system was conceived at a time when the media Australians consumed was shipped around as physical objects (books, magazines, video tapes) and doled out by gatekeepers charged with enforcing censorship laws (newsagents, movie theaters, video shops). Information could be regulated like alcohol or tobacco; no naughty magazine without ID. In that case, classification-based censorship is at least practical. What do we do in a world where all content is digital? Is there anything we can do?
I was recently involved in preparing EFA’s submission to the ALRC review on the classification system. In that submission, we argue that the classification system simply can’t be made to work in an all-digital world. To me, this isn’t a controversial statement. You are, after all, reading this in a web browser from which you can, in seconds, be watching movies that have never been rated by the classification board. Indeed, many of them wouldn’t be rated by the classification board if they did see them. They would be banned if they were on a DVD.
If the existence and access to all this freely available moral pollution has had a detrimental effect on society, it hasn’t outweighed the benefits that the internet has brought. If you’re using the web, you’re already living in an uncensored world; why don’t we just acknowledge it?
The submission doesn’t appear to be up on the ALRC’s submission page yet for some reason, but if you’re interested you can grab it from this link here.
Earlier in the year I also wrote a more readable article arguing the same thing, you can read that here at the ABC.