When it comes to pinning down censorship advocates on exactly why they want to regulate the internet, it can be a little difficult. The words “child p-rnography” appear fairly quickly, along with “exploitation” and “disgusting”. But we’ve had a go at trying to delineate the core arguments made by people who want to block you from accessing certain, unspecified but obviously “disgusting” internet content.

1. Child p-rnography is available on the internet.

Indeed. And it is illegal and law enforcement in many countries work hard to track down the perpetrators, making it more difficult to access. ACMA maintains a blacklist of sites which are currently blocked by ISPs, although that is a tiny fraction of the illegal material available. No one who accesses online child p-rnography, or any other illegal material, does so accidentally, and no one who wants to access it will be stopped by a filter.

2. P-rnography is easily accessible to kids, even by accident

The biggest and oldest myth on the internet, up there with the Neiman-Marcus cookies recipe and the exploding whale story. The way censorship advocates tell it, the mere act of turning on a PC causes it to spew p-rnography into the room in an unstoppable fountain of filth. “You have only got to press P on the Internet and all this stuff appears free of charge in front of you,” said Senator Paul Calvert in 1999 (what did he mean free of charge? Gimme that URL!). “Even though I monitor [my son’s] internet use, sometimes when I am cooking anything could flash up,” concerned parent Bernice Watson told the Courier Mail last week. One wonders what sort of weird ISPs these people have. The only children who have ever “stumbled across” p-rnography are those who have looked for it. As with other types of material unsuitable for children, whether it’s the nightly news, medicines or movies for mature audiences, it is a parent’s job to regulate access, not society’s.

3. The internet s-xualises children.

Where’s the evidence, and specifically in relation to the internet? Aren’t other media — not to mention major retailers — responsible for s-xualisation as well? And how does one define “s-xualisation” in a society in which the average age of the onset of puberty is falling? And why aren’t parents regulating access to s-xualising content?

4. The internet encourages suicide amongst teenagers.

Michael Carr-Gregg used the suicides of two Victorian girls last year to claim the internet acted “as a virtual petri dish for the suicide virus”. ABS statistics show suicides in 15-19 year olds have almost halved since peaking in 1997, and in 2005 stood at 6.6 deaths per 100,000. It was 12.0 in 1997, before most people had an internet connection.

5. The internet should be regulated like other media.

There are two fundamentals in the way we regulate the media: we regulate different media differently, and in no circumstance do we let governments vet content. Mandatory ISP-level filtering would hand both politicians and the media regulator the power to determine which online content was blocked, with no opportunity for the public to even determine if content has been blocked, as the regulator does not reveal what sites it prevents access to. The only comparable regime is for films, and in the rare cases when films are outright refused classification, there is a transparent process of consideration by an independent body.

6. Are you some kind of sicko?

Much debate, Conroy style, defaults to this: if you oppose internet censorship you must like child p-rnography, or at least be the sort of libertarian nutjob who puts some nebulous right to free speech above the rights of kids to be free of exploitation and s-xualisation.

Internet censorship isn’t just about p-rnography. Australia bans gambling sites, bans discussion of euthanasia and suicide, supports multinational companies prosecuting per-to-peer file sharing under a plain silly copyright law, in addition to its draconian defamation laws and absurd sedition laws that remain unreformed under the Rudd Government. The Federal Government’s proposal would hand the media regulator the power to implement those restrictions as it saw fit, with no one the wiser about how it was being done, and politicians able to extend the restrictions when the next Big Brother­-style moral panic happens along. Anyone, even diehard protectors of children, comfortable with that?

Peter Fray

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