Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Government censorship in Australia?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday that a spoof John Howard website that featured a soul searching "apology" speech for the Iraq war has been shut down under orders from the Australian Government. Read the article here and view a copy of the "speech" here.

Is this censorship? Should the Australian government be allowed to ask Melbourne IT to shut down the site?

1 comment:

Floris said...

Is this censorship?

Copyright is one of the reasons given for the site’s removal. The site is said to infringe intellectual property law since its layout, links, text etc were too similar to the Government’s official website. This raises the question of to what extent does the new content (the speech) have to resemble the original content (Government’s website) in order for the author/political satirist to be accused of copyright infringement and for the content to be removed?

Several factors point to censorship as being the main reason for taking down the website. The speech subjects the Government’s key policies to critical and satirical examination. The Government is sensitive to any exposure of its political record and seeks to minimise resistance towards its decision to support the United States in Iraq. In addition, there was considerable secrecy, marked by the lack of notice given to the author, behind the site’s removal.


Should the Australian Government be allowed to ask Melbourne IT to shut down the site?

The site should not have been taken down. In contrast to the United States’ First Amendment, there is no entrenched freedom of expression in the Australian Constitution. However, Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth recognised that the Australian Constitution contains an implied freedom to discuss political matters. This freedom is derived from sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution which provides that members of the Senate and the House of Representatives ‘shall be ... directly chosen by the people’.

The Government will justify the removal of the site by the notion that restricting freedom of speech is legitimate and desirable in order to maintain social cohesion, prevent political dissent and ensure that its power is not undermined.

The formal procedures for taking down the site may not have been followed. It has been reported that Melbourne IT acted without a formal take down notice issued by the web hosting company and/or the registrant.


Conclusion

This case may have a chilling effect on the development of thoughts and ideas. It may reduce satirical depictions of the Government and many political cartoonists, filmmakers, artists and writers may decide to move their content off-shore, such as to the United States.

This attempt to restrict access has drawn more attention to the speech since several newspaper articles have been published and numerous blogs are discussing this speech. See for example the following article published in The Age on 28 March 2006, which gives a clear overview of the main issues: http://theage.com.au/news/perspectives/senseless-censorship-gets-a-hippy-hippy-shake-down/2006/03/26/1143330924075.html