Hate speech and the internet

On page 7 of today's The Australian newspaper, an article headlined "Warning of hatred on racists' fantasy website" (the same article is available online under the headline "Racist site wanrings ignored"), referred to "A racist website where extremists fantasise about gassing Arabs has been allowed to operate freely for months, despite warnings sent to state and federal authorities that it breaks laws prohibiting the incitement of racial violence."

The website referred to is a blog titled Patriot Alliance Downunder. You can view the website at http://avoiceofdissent.blogspot.com/.

Does this website breach Australian state and/or federal law? Should a website with this sort of content be allowed to remain online? What does the fact that this website is still online tell you about internet content regulation in Australia?

Comments

Simon said…
While there is no specific legislation to deal with online "hate" sites, the most relevant legislation in this circumstance may (arguably) be the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (the "RDA").

Section 18c of the RDA creates an offence for acts which may reasonably offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person (objective test of a reasonably intelligent person) where the act is in relation to the race, colour, nationality, ethnicity or origin.

It is my understanding that this section was successfully applied in Jones v Toben [2002] FCA 1150 where it was held a website containing documents that vilified Jews contained the necessary quality of material to be deemed "offensive" to the Australian Jewish community and thus the website was ordered to be taken offline.

However, it should be noted that there are a number of defences within section 18(d)that were not run within that case and that there is scope to debate the reasoning per Kirby J comments in Australian Broadcasting Corporation v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd (i.e. extension of implied expression of political communication).

Potential problems with obtaining a successful application of 18(c) may be the following:

- is the material objectively offensive?
- is it directed at one particular race/nationality (does it have to be)?
- would the content be protected by s18(d) (i.e. fair publication, discussion or debate)?
- what effect does Kirby J comments in Australian Broadcasting Corporation v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd have?

Notwithstanding the inappropriateness of the content it may be the fact that the content does not meet the required tests for the above reasons.

Until we have legislation that directly deals with this issue, web sites such as these can continue to operate.

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