Category Archives: Censorship

Ordinary American questions for-profit health care

I’m not surprised this interview with an “Occupy Wall St” protester didn’t air on Fox, but I am surprised that it leaked:

That bit at the end?

“I think, myself, as well as many other people, would like to see a little but more economic justice or social justice — Jesus stuff — as far as feeding the poor, health care for the sick. You know, I find it really entertaining that people like to hold the Bill of Rights up while they’re screaming at gay soldiers, but they just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that a for-profit healthcare system doesn’t work. So, let’s just look at it like this, if we want the president to do more, let’s talk to him on a level that actually reaches people, instead of asking for his birth certificate and wasting time with total nonsense like Solyndra.”

If you relied on their national media, you’d almost forget that such Americans still existed.

Things they don’t want to hear or see

I wasn’t going to comment on Robert Clark’s silly (and fucking outrageous) plan to get police to issue on the spot fines for swearing in public, until I read Dee Madigan’s remarks on The Drum and realised just how this is going to affect vulnerable people:

In fact, what is considered to be ‘normal community standards’ is highly subjective at the best of times. It should not be a decision made in the heat of the moment by a policemen who, let’s face it, would be unlikely to be objective about someone they are right in the middle of having a problem with.

And it means that any person in any sort of dispute with police has a way to be charged immediately. And this is where the new laws are most insidious.

Empirical evidence in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory shows that laws which focus on offending behaviors have a disproportionate impact on juveniles and minority groups. For example, in Western Australia, Aboriginals are 15 times more likely to be charged for swearing. And in New South Wales, offensive conduct crimes also have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities, and more often than not are used to deal with young people who are deemed to be showing disrespect to authority.

So, while swearing doesn’t actually hurt someone (and no, being offended isn’t the same as actually being hurt), laws that punish people for swearing can become a form of social exclusion which can be incredibly damaging to the most vulnerable groups in our society.

That’s very true. I’ve written before about how laws targeting things like begging result in homeless people being locked up because they have neither money nor identification; this is just one more quiver in the bow of the nastiest members of the police force. The vulnerable who use coarse language because it’s all they’ve ever known, will find themselves lumped with fines they can’t possibly pay. The mentally-ill, the drug-affected, those focused on bare survival – in practice, this will be a tool to make life even more difficult for those only just hanging on.

And for what? To protect our precious, dainty ears from hearing centuries-old English words? For fuck sake.

ELSEWHERE: On the subject of morons imposing their ‘being offended” on the rest of us:

A billboard company has defended its decision to bow to pressure to remove advertisements promoting safe sex among gay couples.

HIV campaigners are outraged the safe sex promotion featuring a fully clothed, hugging gay couple has been pulled from Queensland bus shelters by Adshel.

The Queensland Association for Healthy Communities launched its “Rip and Roll” advertisements a week ago and yesterday learned they were being scrapped after about 30 complaints.

You can guess by whom:

Australian Christian Lobby: People power wins in removing offending ads

If you’ve got the stomach, you can read the actual complaints here.

Got that, people we have an irrational prejudice against?

UPDATE (4.45pm): After protests, Adshel has now reversed its decision, with one of the silliest excuses ever:

Adshel CEO Steve McCarthy said the company had been the “target” of a an organised campaign by the ACL. He said in a statement: “It has now become clear that Adshel has been the target of a coordinated ACL campaign. This has led us to review our decision to remove the campaign and we will therefore reinstate the campaign with immediate effect.”

Wait, so if the ACL hadn’t admitted its link that would’ve been okay? It’s not that the objections were fatuous and discriminatory – it’s that they were organised?

When should free speech on race be constrained?

There’s an interesting court case going on at the moment in Melbourne involving a trollumnist and some remarks he made about particular members of a particular ethnic group. The trollumnist in question and his specific views and that specific case are not the focus of this post, but rather the general question of where precisely the line on commentary on race and culture should be drawn.

Obviously, suggesting or implying that someone fraudulently claims benefits to which they should not be entitled is already covered by defamation. The point of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 is to extend protections to offended groups rather than individuals.

It is possible it went too far.

We’ll see how the Court interprets what Parliament legislated, but let’s discuss what we think the rule should be – even if that requires a change to the Act itself.

For my part, I’d agree that there should be some limit. If you had an ideologue calling for Jewish shopkeepers to have their shops smashed, that should be over the line. If you had a crank inciting hatred against Muslims by declaring that they were evil and inventing a whole host of outrageous smears against them – well, maybe that would cross the line, depending on how extreme those claims were and how likely they were to devolve into violence.

But if you have someone arguing, contrary to the evidence, that no remedial assistance is needed for a particular disadvantaged group that happens to have a racial or cultural link – well, maybe that’s just part of political debate.

Where should we draw the line? How about – beyond hurt feelings, at the point at which targets who didn’t read such an article start to feel real consequences from it.

NOTE: I won’t be publishing any comments that directly refer to a case currently being heard.

R18: Federal government not taking the states’ sh*t any more

As I’ve said before, just because the present Classification Scheme gives every state attorney-general a veto over any change to classification rules, doesn’t mean that the agreement on which the scheme is based can’t be changed. It’s not in the Constitution that states have to have the same rating system; it’s better if possible, and that would be everyone’s preference, but where it’s being made ridiculous by a lone crank each time, it’s just not worth the cost.

Fortunately, the federal government appears to have come to the same conclusion:

The Federal Government has given state and territory attorneys-general until July to decide whether to introduce an R18+ classification for video games.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says after a decade of debate, it is crunch time.

“We’re becoming the laughing stock of the developed world, where we’re the only country that doesn’t have an R18 classification level for video games.

“I foreshadow that if there is not a consensus around this issue, the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options because we cannot continue to have an outdated classification system that’s actually, in my view, causing harm to young people.”

The Federal Government says reforming the system will help protect children, inform parents and give adult gamers more choice.

“I’m not going to let this matter end because it’s too important to allow one or two jurisdictions to stop the majority of jurisdictions in this country moving on an important reform,” Mr O’Connor said.

Now THAT is how to cut through the bull. Call them on it. Don’t let them hide behind a secretive little meeting where nobody has to take responsibility publicly for their vote. It has never made sense that some MP in the South Australian state parliament can tell Victorian adults what they can watch. No wonder Australians have such contempt for the rating system as presently designed.

But a rating system is important. People should have a guide as to what kind of content they’re about to consume – and what kind of content they’re going to let their kids consume. We need a rating system the country can respect.

Let’s hope the federal government gets it done before it expends all its political capital on another issue.

UPDATE: Now the Tasmanian AG has come out and confirmed he’ll be supporting such a rating. What’s the position of the other AG’s going to be?

US Supreme Court supports bigots’ right to abuse families at funerals; inadvertently undermines anti-gay side’s biggest argument

UPDATE: Prompted by a comment, and having now perused the full text of the decision, I’ve changed my mind on this case somewhat. WBC was protected because it was well back from the funeral (1,000 feet), out of sight of the church, and “there was no shouting, profanity or violence” – and its attack was on public matters (although at least some material published online targeted the Snyders directly). Had it been the Snyder residence, for example, the Court would probably have found as in Frisby. Or if it were preventing people from attending (eg outside an abortion clinic) as in Madsen. The “captive audience doctrine” did not apply because the facts were that “Snyder could see no more than the tops of the signs when driving to the funeral”.

Given those factors, the decision seems consistent and not unreasonable.

That said, Alito’s dissent is also worth reading.

To begin, I don’t agree with the US Supreme Court that “free speech” protections should include a “right” to harass and intimidate. In the real world there should be – and, for people like the Supreme Court justices, are – obvious limits. I suspect that if I were to stand on a public street next to a Supreme Court judge’s house and loudly broadcast abuse at him and his family over the fence at three in the morning, the police would arrive and promptly take me away. Even though I was technically on “public property”.

Likewise, whilst the Westboro Baptist Church nutcases should be entitled to argue what they like in public, harassment of private citizens crosses the line from where courts should place their victims’ privacy rights above their free speech rights.

I think the decision in Snyder v Phelps is a terrible precedent, and entirely inconsistent with the rights of ordinary citizens (ie, citizens who are not Supreme Court justices and granted special protection by the state) to not be bullied by aggressive, hysterical thugs.

One interesting effect of this decision, as Fred Clark points out, is that it is a bit of an own-goal for the homophobes. One of their biggest arguments against marriage equality is that it is somehow going to take away their rights to free speech – their “right” to defame and abuse homosexual people from the pulpit. They conjure terrifying scenarios of priests sued and prosecuted for simply teaching their religion’s most deeply-held beliefs – that gay people should be hounded by their flock.

But this decision affirms that such a fear is utterly unfounded. The Supreme Court has defended the bigots’ “right” to abuse not just gay people, and not just from their pulpits – but at their funerals. At the funerals of ordinary citizens who are just insufficiently anti-gay for the fundamentalists’ liking.

Like Fred, I suspect that won’t actually stop the nutters making the argument: they’ve long since resolved to say whatever they think will build support, regardless of whether it is true or plausible or in any way rational. They have no shame. But it’s worth everyone else realising how hollow the claim is.

On Line Opinion vs people’s opinions

Where do I sit on the now infamous On Line Opinion spat?

On the one hand, I do believe in free speech. But on the other… if you’re publishing something, either an article or a comment, you are doing more than just listening to it – you’re promoting it. Do you, as a website owner, have an obligation to publish any material, no matter how hateful, dishonest, misleading and downright damaging to honest debate?

I don’t think you do have such an obligation. I think publishing such material is making a choice – and a statement. You are saying “this view is not so extreme and destructive that it is beneath contempt; I think it is a legitimate part of the debate”.

The background, as I understand it:

  • On Line Opinion (OLO) published this ludicrous piece by Bill Muehlenberg in which he revealed that he spends a lot of time reading “the gay press” and attempted to suggest that gay people can’t take marriage seriously because some gay people don’t agree with his views on marriage.

  • The following comment was published:

    “It’s interesting that so many people are offended by the truth. The fact is that homosexual activity is anything but healthy and natural. Certain lgbt’s want their perversion to be called “normal” and “healthy” and they’ve decided the best way to do this is have their “marriages” formally recognised. But even if the law is changed, these “marriages” are anything but healthy and natural. It is, in fact, impossible for these people to be married, despite what any state or federal law may say.

  • Reader Greg Storer objected to homosexuality being declared a “perversion” and asked OLO to remove the comment.
  • OLO refused.
  • Storer and others contacted advertisers.
  • ANZ and IBM pulled their advertising.
  • OLO complained.
  • The “Australian Christian Lobby” came to its defence, as did The Australian. (Ouch.)

I’d argue that publishing an argument from someone like Muehlenberg which amounts to little more than an ad-hominem attack on gay people via insulting some prominent gay political figures is an editorial choice which is not required just because you’re trying to give reasonable space to both sides. And publishing a comment calling many of your readers relationships “perversions” is

The former is not an honest or reasonable contribution to debate, anyway. It’s the kind of thing that smothers genuine discussion – it certainly isn’t part of it. And the latter is, in reality, indistinguishable from hate speech.

The question I’d ask OLO is – where do you draw the line? If you had some anti-Semite spouting foul slurs about Jews, would you give her space? Is a reprehensible view acceptable just because you know several people who share it? Where do you draw that line? How many people need to believe something obviously false and dishonest before you’re willing to publish it as an “alternative opinion” in the guise of “balance”?

And if you choose to draw the line too broadly, why shouldn’t advertisers choose not to support your site?

To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of advertising really suits a genuinely free exchange of ideas, anyway – corporate money is fairly wary of anything controversial, which would hardly be something such a site should shy away from.

I suspect if you don’t want to scare away mainstream advertisers, you need to keep your content within certain bounds. Bounds which exclude publishing naked hate speech and misleading rhetoric.

Sorry, but on this occasion I think OLO stepped over the line, and it shouldn’t be surprised by the result. (And not just because they’ve got the ACL in their corner.)

Jim Wallace once again peddling scary filth

Far-right extremist Jim Wallace gets special, behind-closed-doors access to the attorneys-general of the various states to scare them with a TERRIFYING VIDEO OF HORROR that, he claims, would be inflicted on the nation’s children if videogames had an R18 rating:

Despite this argument [that an R18 rating would protect children by keeping adult material from them] being run strongly in the lead-up to last December’s meeting of censorship ministers, they baulked at lifting the bar on R18+ computer games when they were shown video of the sort of material such a rating would allow into Australia.

Members of the public supposedly expressing overwhelming support in opinion polls for lifting the ban of extreme interactive computer game violence might also baulk if they too could see what the State and Federal Attorneys General saw.

I wonder why they can’t. After all, we have an R18 rating for video content already. Presumably if Mr Wallace’s video showed the sort of content that would be included in an R18 category for videogames – a video of a computer game is a video, not a computer game – it would be something that could be released and shown to us, right now.

Unless, of course, Wallace was scaring them with material that would be refused classification in film already, and thus would also be refused classification even if we had an R18 rating.

Of course, Wallace hasn’t shown us that video. Nor, apparently, were members of the Classification Board (let alone advocates for the reform) given an opportunity to assess the various pieces of content as to whether any of it would be permitted under a proposed R18 rating.

No, apparently he just got to show them outrageous filth and claim IT WAS ABOUT TO BE RELEASED ON THE NATION’S CHILDREN (under an R18 rating specifically designed to reduce their access to that content, presently sold with minor alterations as MA15+). And no-one stood up and protected the innocent politicians from this dangerous, corrupting material.

Why won’t anyone think of the attorneys-general?

UPDATE (25/1): Jeremy Sear of the so-called “Australian Family Lobby” – a man known to shamelessly and confusingly refer to himself in the third person for no apparent reason – gets stuck in on the subject of R18 at the ABC.