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Aussie censors persist in making a bad fist of it

Screwing up with prohibitive iTunes movie policy

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Male masturbation and extreme anal fisting are now PG, as far as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) are concerned.

However, mainstream films such as V for Vendetta and American Gangster are prohibited content – at least if they happen to be distributed through the iTunes Store (ITMS) "Gift this movie" menu. This would appear to be the latest peculiar twist to the censorship debate in Australia, and is in part a direct consequence of the Australian government pressing ahead with plans for its super-hi-tech firewall – without first sorting out the law that the firewall is meant to embody.

Cameron Watt is a Reg reader and a member of anti-censorship organisation, Electronic Frontiers Australia. He objects to government proposals to censor the internet: but instead of protesting on the street, he has set himself the task of showing up just how ludicrous existing government policy is.

His sharp-eyed analysis has identified at least one central flaw in the Australian Government’s internet blocking policy. As he explains on his blog: although Communications Minister Stephen Conroy claims the purpose of government policy is the eradication of child porn, the current ACMA block list contains just 977 URLs, of which just under a third are identified as child porn.

Speaking to the Reg last night, he said: "Of those, a high proportion of sites claimed as child porn are actually US-based and certified as over 18.

"Despite all the government rhetoric about protecting children online they have ended the NetAlert Filter program where Australian's could download a "free" (the government paid the license fee) Internet filter and hasn't replaced it."

He and fellow activists Geordie Guy and Mark Newton have also been helping to undermine government policy on censorship by complaining about a range of films and images – and then standing back whilst ACMA makes itself look foolish.

Geordie Guy complained about Pulp Fiction on the BigPond Movies service, on the grounds that the film is classified R18+, but not offered under the auspices of a Restricted Access System which meets the requirements for R18+ content in the ACMA Restricted Access System Declaration 2007.

Luckily for ACMA, BigPond withdrew that film before the complaint could be fully investigated, and no decision was given.

Mark Newton raised the issue of V for Vendetta and American Gangsters on much the same grounds: they are classified MA15+, sold for profit, and are offered without a restricted access system. ACMA agreed – at least in respect of distribution of these films via the ITMS "Gift" function: so for now, those films are also banned from part of the Australian internet.

A part of the problem, according to Cameron Watt, is that Apple assume that anyone able to buy with a credit card must be over 18 – and so they are not applying an approved age rating system to the transaction.

Last but by no means least, Cameron himself submitted a complaint in respect of works produced by Robert Mapplethorpe (NSFW: nor for the squeamish). ACMA’s response was categorical: "The content is not prohibited under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the Act)."

While he claims to be pleased with this result, the overall effect is to raise further doubts about the ability of the Australian authorities to put in place any sort of internet censorship policy that will not instantaneously rebound, leaving Australia the butt of jokes around the world for its inconsistency and narrow-mindedness. ®

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