Evidence is mounting that the list of websites published by Wikileaks is almost certainly ACMA’s “secret” blacklist. Senator Stephen Conroy claimed the first leaked list, dated August 2008, was too long to be real. 2395 URLs instead of 1600-odd. However, more recent lists, leaked late Friday night, are another story.

“There’s not much if any room for doubt that the Wikileaked lists of 11 and 18 March are anything other than the ACMA blacklist,” says Irene Graham, who maintains censorship information website Libertus.net.

Even apart from the giveaway file name, “Websites_ACMA.txt”, ACMA’s statistics for November 2008 say they added an item “RC–Publication” that month. That means an electronic version of a print publication, like a book or magazine (remember them?), which had been “Refused Classification”. It’s the only “RC–Publication” item ACMA has ever blacklisted.

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When books are banned, it’s not a secret. The Classification Review Board’s database shows, to choose a completely random example, that on 27 February, 2007, they banned The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Phillip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart.

Mainstream media reported that Nitschke then published the book online in October 2008, hosted outside Australia. The leaked blacklist dated 11 March, 2009, shows the relevant website added on 12 November, 2008 — the same month ACMA added their solitary banned book to their list. Coincidence? Yeah right.

Anti-censorship campaigner Michael Meloni has also spotted a URL he’d specifically reported to ACMA. Other URLs, such as the anti-abortion site we wrote about in January, also appear on appropriate dates.

“I’ve observed a number of other things about ACMA statistics and URLs on the leaked blacklist of a similar unlikely-to-be-coincidence nature,” Graham told Crikey.

ACMA told Senate Estimates that the real blacklist had “around 1100” URLs at the end of January. The leaked list from 18 March has 1168. Senator Conroy has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, the Libs have been attempting to extend the Conroy-as-Big-Brother meme…

As a Fairfax report spun it, “The Federal Government will begin trawling blog sites as part of a new media monitoring strategy, with official documents singling out a website critical of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.”

Senator Nick Minchin described the plans as “extreme”, saying forums such as Whirlpool, the site named in the documents, “play an important role in our democracy.”

Precisely, Senator Minchin. Which is precisely why the government should be paying attention, just as they do to what’s said on talkback radio. Indeed, had the government been paying attention to Whirlpool earlier, they’d have been aware of the mounting technical criticism of internet filtering.

Major corporations like Dell and Telstra and many others already do this as part of a coherent “social media strategy”.

All this comes from a single Q&A in Addendum Number 2 to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s Request for Tender DCON/08/101 for “Media Monitoring Services”:

Question 4. Clarification of “electronic media” and a list of key stations to be monitored.

Answer 4. The term electronic media refers to online media. Key websites include (but are not limited to): all Australian newspaper sites, ABC Asia Pacific News, ABC News Online, ARNet, ITnews Australia, news.com.au, ninemsn news, ZDNet Australia, Nine MSN, ABC Online and blogs such as whirlpool etc.

Quick! Call Geoffrey Robertson! I’m being repressed!


I reckon we should be happy that the government might finally be paying attention to “the people”, not just what’s filtered through Big Media. (Though I’d be happier if they knew the difference between a blog and a forum like Whirlpool.)

Of course, whether what’s discovered is representative of public opinion, or is responded to effectively, or whether people who post negative information about government plans are treated fairly, are different questions…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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