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The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill

By Darce Cassidy - posted Thursday, 15 April 1999

This is a bad piece of legislation. It won't stop pornography on the Internet, but it will violate the Australia-United States Joint Statement on Economic Commerce. It will tend to give parents a false sense of security that Big Brother is looking after their kids, and it will damage the Australian economy.

It is not only bad legislation, it is also dumb legislation . Moreover, our government appears to be deaf. They haven't listened to business leaders, they haven't listened to their own agencies, and they haven't listened to their citizens.

Senator Alston says that there is widespread demand for legislation to block inappropriate material on the Internet. Yet one of his own agencies has told him that this is not the case. The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) informed the Minister in their Telecommunications Performance Report 1997-8l, at page 116 that, 'Inappropriate content was the smallest concern of Internet users surveyed.'


Every recent Australian survey confirms this. Another survey, undertaken early this year by the widely recognised www.consult, the same company that had previously been commissioned by NOIE, found that only 9.9% of respondents thought that the government should censor the Internet. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed (62.5%) said that parents should be responsible for their kids, and 22.2% said that no one should censor the Internet.

Yet Senator Alston continues to insist that there is a widespread community demand for censorship. When pressed for evidence of this by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, the best he could reply was to refer to a vox pop in the Herald Sun quoting five teenagers and to a US survey by Wired magazine which reported that those surveyed wanted their privacy protected on the Internet and wanted offensive material on the Internet treated the same way as it is in the physical world. However the Online Services Bill makes material that is perfectly legal in the physical world, illegal online.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey commissioned by the OFLC explored community perceptions of film, video and computer games. In relation to adult material, i.e. X-rated videotapes, two out of three respondents who held a firm opinion believed this material should be available to adults. A follow-up survey conducted by the Bureau in August 1994 indicated that 78 per cent of respondents supported the availability of R classified films and videos. Source: ABA On-line Services Investigation Final Report, 1996.

An AGB McNair poll showed 83 per cent of Australians thought non-violent sexually explicit X-rated videos should be legally available. Source: The Age, 25 Apr 97

The Managing Director of IBM in Australia, Mr Bob Savage has said that the Bill "could put restraints around Australian business that other countries don't have to worry about and that makes us less attractive" (The Australian, May 6). The local Managing Director of Cisco Systems, quoted in the same article, has said that the Bill will not be effective.

So has the CSIRO, the , the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Library and Information Association. See also DCITA's media release.


In reply Senator Alston says that somehow new technology will come to the rescue, and puts his faith in 'guessing engines'. He seems to be very impressed with Clairview Internet Sheriff. When tested by EFA this product blocked access to Mick's Whips, one of the Prime Ministers favourite examples of Australian online commerce, and to the home page of the Deputy Prime Minister's National Party.

Other filtering software, in use in schools in Utah, was found, when tested, to block access to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the home page of Dr. Walter Wager. Dr Wager is an expert in distance education at Florida State University, and his page was blocked on the ground that it promoted gambling!

Senator Alston is at odds with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) which has announced, after an inquiry lasting almost a year, that it will not regulate Internet content. The CRTC said that it was concerned 'that any attempt to regulate Canadian new media might put the industry at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace'. The CRTC is the equivalent of the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

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About the Author

Darce Cassidy is Secretary of Save Our SBS. His background is in broadcasting and journalism, having worked for the ABC (Four Corners, AM and PM, in various radio management roles), the SBS (Training), and the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council.

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