When does a political poster go too far? Refugee campaigner Julian Burnside has kicked off a lively debate after Australia Post and one of our biggest direct mail companies both refused to distribute an A4 poster graphically attacking the PM over the Iraq war.

Graphic images and political suppression

From the second October 1 subscriber email

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Refugee campaigner Julian Burnside writes:

A person I know slightly decided to spend some of his own money printing and distributing an A4 poster which draws attention to the horrible consequences of the recent invasion of Iraq.

The leaflet shows a 12 year-old Iraqi child in hospital. His arms have been blown off; he has suffered terrible burns to his torso. The photo has been printed in the newspapers. Next to this image is a family photo of Mr Howard.

The text comments on the different protection Mr Howard offers his family, as compared with the devastation inflicted on countless Iraqui families because of our invasion of that country alongside the Americans.

My colleague lodged the 35,000 posters for distribution by a firm called Red Cap Distributors. They accepted his money ($2320) and the posters. A week later they told him they could not deliver the posters because of their “graphic content”. Red Cap is owned by a listed company called Salmat. Salmat makes political donations to the Liberal party and the National party.

He then made enquiries with Australia Post. They subsequently refused to accept the posters. An internal email from Australia Post dated 23 September orders Australia Post staff not to accept or deliver the poster, on the grounds that it is “offensive”:

To: EPOS sites – all states

Source: Retail HQ
Date: 23 September 2004

Subject: Offensive Election Pamplet – Not to be accepted or Delivered

Overview: A customer has attempted to lodge an election pamplet in Victoria featuring an injured Iraqi boy and a seperate picture of the Prime Minister.

The article has been referred to Legal Services who have confirmed it an offensive and decided that Australia Post should not accept or deliver the article.

ACTION REQUIRED: Acceptance and/or delivery of this article should not occer under any circumstances.

On any rational view of the poster, it is not offensive, except that it depicts the consequences of a conflict which many members of the community considered wrong and immoral.

Where is this country headed?

Julian Burnside

CRIKEY: View a full size version of the poster here – http://www.crikey.com.au/images/2004/10/01-YW9FE8SG00.jpg

The feedback was quick and strong from our subscribers as you can see below:

Burnside a tired old windbag

Interesting how civil liberties are in the eyes of the beholder. Julian Burnside over many years has been a champion of civil liberties, at least in his own eyes.

Yet when Salmat wish to exercise their own civil liberty to not distribute a poster, for whatever reason (its their choice) there’s a problem.

Salmat is in the business of making money for its shareholders. Why the hell would it cut its own throat by distributing posters that some of its existing clients might not like?

Even the “AB friggin’ C” have realised what a tired old windbag Julian Burnside has become, electing not to screen the Enough Rope interview with him, because it was just not interesting.

Says it all, really.

Tony from Northbridge

Can Crikey go any lower?

Posting that picture is close to an all time low for Crikey. I’m surprised John Howard didn’t have a little Hitler moustache painted on him as well.

Perhaps you can also post a photo of Saddam with his family, cleverly juxtaposed with snaps of mass Shiite graves, mangled people from the Iran-Iraq and first Gulf wars, starving Iraqi children circa 1991-2003 and topped off with the Kurds he gassed in Fallujah.

You do remember all those people Saddam killed, right?

Tamas Calderwood

Crikey did the right thing

Dear Crikey,

Julian Burnside’s note re the ‘offensive’ poster is not only absolutely correct but also very important. This trend towards arbitrary censorship to protect those in power and the mingling of political and religious discourse, both offshoots of the contemporary assault on the rule of law and reason as the foundation of public policy, represent major threats to whatever democracy still means in Australia. Besides criticising these tendencies, what else can we do?

Is Australia post subject to the FOI legislation?

* If so I will donate to a fund to obtain the relevant written documents generated by Australia Post’s consideration of the poster; and I reckon a lot of others would too, among them some very good lawyers who would donate time and expertise.
* If not, then what about a campaign to embarrass Australia Post into explaining its stand and voluntarily releasing its advice and the grounds on which it rested?

If it turns out that Australia Post is beyond all accountability for such decisions and prefers to thumb its nose at its questioners, then let’s get that clear and widely understood too. Personally, I’ll get a stamp made, the kind you use to add your return address, and it will print ‘Australia Post practises political censorship’ on every piece of mail I send.

Best wishes (and thanks for providing a venue and vehicle for the dissemination of information such as the poster story).


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