The infamous Big Brother turkey slapping incident may be about to lead to a turkey of another kind – unprecedented censorship of Australian books, magazines and other media material of all kinds.

The Government plans to pass legislation in the autumn session aimed at regulating all content – including text and still images – using the film classification system as the standard.

Crikey understands that publishers would have to submit for classification all material to be delivered electronically – including book and magazine content. Any content that gained an MA or R classification would have be subject to an approved age restricted access system.

In case you were living under a rock last July, the turkey slapping incident concerned two Big Brother housemates who held a woman down in her bed while one straddled her and slapped her face with his genitals. Read the details here.

The footage was never aired on television but was streamed over the internet and the resulting furore led the Minister for Communications, Senator Helen Coonan, to promise legislation to regulate video streamed on the internet.

That was the last most of us heard about it, but now the Government Bulletin of proposed legislation states that the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill would “reform the regulatory structures for non-broadcasting communications content to ensure that existing policy principles for the regulation of content are consistently applied to these new audio-visual services”.

The wording suggests the law is aimed at providers of mobile telephone and internet content – and that nobody has thought through the implications for book and magazine publishers who also deliver content online.

Crikey understands that the Minister’s office has consulted Telstra, Optus, the Mobile Phone Association and the Internet Industry Association – but not content providers, and not magazine and book publishers, who have now got wind of what is happening and are understandably up in arms.

The Australian Publishers Association reports on the legislation in its latest newsletter, is talking to the Opposition about the Bill, and putting difficult technical questions to the Minister’s department. Australian Consolidated Press is also understood to be beating a path to the Minister’s office.

It’s hard to believe such draconian proposals will survive. More likely than not, the drafters will be sent back to the drawing board – and this particular turkey will be slapped down hard.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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