Censorship in Australia

Australia possesses a rabbit proof fence-like internet censorship in action.

Australia is a nation built by foreigners, or better say, by invaders. Modernity, development, Western civilization, Christian religion, English language, culture, law, politics, economic principles and most of the rest were super imposed in the aborigine land of one million hunters and gatherers since 17th century. The very base of the nation is free flow of new ideas, knowledge and practices with people themselves.

Australia is a state freedom of expression is assumed implied in the constitution although it is not explicitly provided. But today, through Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) state censors free flow of information in internet under the provisions of Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 as amended in 1999 and 2007.

ACMA has power to enforce content restrictions on internet content hosted within Australia. ACMA issues local sites with a take-down notice under which the content must be removed; failure to do so can result in fines of up to $11,000 per day. ACMA also blacklists overseas websites which disseminate content the government categorizes as offensive. Child pornography, sexual violence and other illegal activities are the primary focus but the censor expands to other domains also depending on a consumer complaints process. The list of banned web pages is added to filtering software (encrypted) of all the Internet Service Providers. ACMA has already carried out Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering. Internet Service Providers are encouraged for voluntary filtering.

Opinion polls carried out in the country have shown that there is a considerable concern especially of parents regarding the websites their children may encounter and the need of filtering their content but the government’s proposed doing it through force has generated considerable objection too.

In March 2009, a user posted a link to a site on ACMA’s blacklist on the Whirlpool forum. The Internet Service Provider of Whirlpool, Bulletproof Networks, was warned to remove the offending link and it was also threatened with fines of $11,000 per day if the offending link was not removed.

In 2008, Australian government proposed a system of mandatory filtering of overseas websites with a view of blocking websites regarded as offensive to all users. The proposal which is supported by a handful of lobbyists is strongly objected by rights groups. The proposal is still being mooted and is likely to be made law somewhere in 2013. However, voluntary filtering is already underway by service providers.

Suicide Related Materials Offences Act -2006, makes the use of internet and other communications media illegal to discuss the practical aspects of suicides, a big issue faced by the country. The Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 affects the Internet Service Providers and there is wide protest to this.

States also apply their laws to censor internet in addition to the federal laws. In one of the notable examples of internet censoring a website was forcibly taken offline by the government with no recourse in 2006 for posting a fictional transcript of Prime Minister John Howard apologizing to Australians for the Iraq War.

The ACMA has also taken anti-censorship websites offline. The website of the Australian Sex Party was also banned.

New terminology evolved round the Aussie government’s censoring of the World Wide Web. Great Australian Firewall, Rabbit Proof Firewall (which refers to a pest control fence built in the country at the beginning of 20th century), Firewall Australia or Great Firewall Reef (a reference to Great Barrier Reef and the Great Firewall of China are some of the terms used to name the proposed censoring moves of the government.

The far reaching debate over internet filtering in Australia has seen wide participation of activists of both parties with some tension too. In this context, Report of the Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation dated 28 February 2012 proposes the creation of an independent News Media Council covering all platforms (print, online, radio and television) with the power to order changes to published content in order to hold the press accountable to journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness, impartiality, integrity, and independence.

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