Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Internet censorship and freedom of the press

The Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy has released "public submissions on improved transparency and accountability measures in relation to the Government’s ISP-level filtering policy". You can find the Minister's statement here. This includes a link through to the submissions.

Such apparently innocent words, "the Government's ISP-level filtering policy", yet they practically mean censorship. I haven't read the submissions themselves. However, according to the Sydney Morning Herald Google said in its submission, among other things, that the model advocated by the government would enable future governments to use it for political censorship.

I can see Google's point. The company could hardly argue otherwise, given its current dispute with the Chinese Government on just this issue. Part of the problem is that once a mechanism is established, Governments of all persuasions will be inclined to use it in ways that we cannot foresee.

There was, by the way, a rather nice obituary in the Tenterfield Star for journalist Lisa Finnerty. Tenterfield is a small town in New England just before the Queensland border.

The paper's editor was on the local council. Unable to take notes in meetings for the paper because of the need to participate in debates, he asked the newly appointed Lisa to report meetings from the press desk in the council chambers. I quote:

On more than one occasion I found myself vehemently speaking my mind, only to hear someone feverishly taking notes of every word I had said.

Mentally I made a note of “me and my big mouth” and “I must remember to speak with Lisa later”.

No Way! “That is what you said - I wrote it down at the time to make sure you were reported accurately - no other councillor has the luxury of vetting my reports before they are published.” She stuck to her guns - and I had to admit she was right. She reported without fear or favour - even willing to put her job on the line.

We ended up making a working agreement that as editor I could check all her stories, but the articles from the council meeting went to press untouched.

It's a nice story because it so clearly illustrates the importance of journalistic ethics. The more Governments can control, the more important a free press becomes in guarding our liberties. 


Rummuser said...

How odd! I too just posted about Internet censorship but from a different point of view.

Jim Belshaw said...

That was an interesting post of yours, Ramana.