Child Abuse and Censorship

In Australia we are currently in the middle of a long drawn out saga about Internet censorship [1]. In summary we have fundamentalist Christians wanting to prevent anyone from accessing X rated material, many clueless people wanting to “protect the children“, and most members of parliament totally ignoring the advice that is offered by everyone who knows anything about the Internet.

There is an ongoing trend world-wide to create new laws related to the Internet which are entirely disconnected from any rational idea of how to enforce them. Such laws also tend to be radically different from laws related to older forms of communication (telephone, the postal service, etc).

I think that anyone who wants to advocate a new law related to the Internet should first consider similar laws related to other methods of communication, the laws for old and new forms of communication should be roughly synchronised. For example any material that can be sent by the government postal service should be permitted to be sent via email. So if something is to be banned from transmission via email then it should be banned from the government postal service, if email is to be searched then the postal service should be searched too.

Now if we are going to have new laws compelling the censorship of all web browsing in the name of preventing child abuse then we should also consider censoring older forms of broadcast media and determine which achieves the greatest good with the minimal expense. It has been claimed that the Australian Federal Police Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team has had their budget cut at the same time as budget was being allocated towards censoring the Internet – this leads me to believe that spending money on censorship involves taking money away from the police work of investigating and prosecuting people who abuse children.

A current ongoing drama in Australian politics involves the abuse of a child on a live radio show [2]. A 14 year old girl was strapped to a faux lie detector and asked questions about sex. Here is a relevant quote from an article in The Age:

She revealed she had been raped when aged 12. When her mother asked in the broadcast whether she was sexually active, the girl replied: ‘‘I’ve already told you the story about this … and don’t look at me and smile, because it’s not funny.’’
When the girl said she had been raped, Sandilands responded by saying: ‘‘Right, is that the only experience you’ve had?’’

Here is a second quote from the same article:

A group of 15 high-profile psychologists, academics and child advocates wrote to The Age calling for the show to be axed, suggesting it had been the venue for child abuse and a gross violation of human rights.

Currently most of the discussion about this incident is focussed on the actions of Kyle Sandilands [3] and Jackie O [4]. But it seems to me that the majority of the blame should fall on the management of 2Day FM [5] for creating an environment where child abuse is going to happen. Radio stations have the technology to quickly switch from any content which fails to meet their guidelines, all it would take is a push of a button to switch to music or advertising. Any decent people in the management would realise that a segment which is based around coercing an underage girl to talk about sex is destined to get a bad result and therefore shouldn’t be approved.

It is very difficult (almost impossible) to implement censorship of the Internet. But it is very easy to control radio broadcasts. If the government is serious about blocking broadcast of material related to child abuse then the best thing that they could do implement a new law specifying that the radio frequency allocation will be removed from any TV or radio station that abuses children. That would be a major incentive for broadcasters to do the right thing, it would be simple to implement and cheap to enforce – and not require taking any more budget from the AFP!

As a final note, in Australia we do have a justice system. So while it would be fun to just pull the plug on 2Day FM without any advance notice the right thing to do is to have a trial first. Unlike the proposed laws for filtering the Internet which don’t even allow anyone to know which sites are to be filtered.

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