Since Crikey published the Government’s draft Bill to censor content on the internet on Tuesday it has been chewed over by content providers nationwide – and generated considerable alarm, including among bloggers who are becoming aware that they may be caught in its net. (Read Crikey’s previous coverage on this issue here, here and here.)

Peter Black, an associate lecturer in law at the Queensland University of Technology and author of the Freedom to Differ blog has written an online summary and critique of the Bill. He concludes in part:

This regime would have a significant chilling effect on free speech in Australia as any content provider would be very reluctant to post any content that may be prohibited or potentially prohibited. When in doubt, the content would not be posted and speech would, in effect, be limited.

Meanwhile Kimberlee Weatherall, Associate Director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia writes on her Lawfront blog:

This draft doesn’t pass the laugh test. Really. It is inconsistent with fundamental values like freedom of speech and freedom of information; it is broad, draconian, and wouldn’t work, it is completely out of step with the way the internet works.

Duncan Riley, one of the grand young men of Australia’s new media industry online, puts the debate into an international context on his news site 901am. Riley sees the Bill as part of a wave of moves internationally to undermine the democratization of information made possible by the web:

There is little doubt that freedom online is actually in decline as opposed to expanding… many of these laws and legal decisions can and do result in further power being taken away from the individual and handed to corporations who have the power and money to operate within the new layers of bureaucracy.

Meanwhile a debate had started up on Larvatus Prodeo with Mark Bahnisch opining:

We now have a completely confused and misdirected draft bill… As you might expect from a government characterised by control-freakery, the bill seeks to regulate content far broader than just streaming video from reality TV programmes.

Bahnisch’s respondents are beginning to talk about a political campaign.

As reported elsewhere in Crikey today, there has already been a backdown in Government and redrafting is in progress. The Government has assured industry representatives that it has no intention of making content illegal on the internet that would be legal when distributed in other forms.

In a response to queries from Crikey this morning, Minister Helen Coonan’s office claimed “The Minister’s Office has contacted a number of organisations that have expressed concerns in relation to the scope of the Bill to assure them that their concerns are not material and a number have taken up the offer of further consultation, with the remainder now satisfied that they concerns were based on misinformation.”

Like fun. The content providing bodies I am talking to are still either spitting chips or suspicious and only partially reassured.

Meanwhile the blogosphere is only just hitting its stride.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey