Why did the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance briefly endorse internet filtering and then hastily retract its support? The ham-fisted kerfuffle was likely the result of the significant siloing between different parts of the union, MEAA insiders told Crikey this morning.

Yesterday tech website ZDNet revealed that in a submission to a government copyright infringement discussion paper released in July the MEAA endorsed a proposal that would allow film studios to seek to injunct internet service providers to filter out websites that facilitate copyright infringement. The MEAA said:

“MEAA welcomes the government’s recognition that rights holders are unable to take enforcement action against overseas-based websites and that action needs to be directed at intermediaries. MEAA strongly supports the proposal to allow for no fault injunctive relief.”

“We note reports that in the UK, where site blocking has been implemented, the use of Pirate Bay declined by 60 percent after it was blocked.”

But the MEAA, which represents actors, journalists, musicians and crew members, has traditonally opposed internet filtering. Its position sparked an outcry, and the submission was disavowed and removed from the Attorney-General’s website a mere five hours after ZDNet’s article was first posted.

The union’s statement, sent to members at 3pm, said it was never the union’s intention to make a submission that could in anyway be interpreted as supporting an internet filter. The statement, authorised by federal secretary Chris Warren, said:

“We have previously campaigned against Government proposals for an internet filter and will continue to do so, as we also continue to campaign against data retention.”

“MEAA has always fought for the fair recognition and proper remuneration of our members’ creativity through effective copyright protection. Copyright infringement is a real and serious threat to the livelihood of many of our members — journalists and performers.

“We will seek to make a new submission to Government based on a broader consultation with all sections of our membership.”

It’s not clear what circumstances led to the dramatic reversal, and the MEAA refused Crikey‘s request for further comment. But MEAA insiders were this morning describing the whole kerfuffle as a “fuck-up”, with its genesis likely in the ongoing division of different sections of the union.

When separate unions were bundled together to create the modern MEAA, each division retained its own head, its own staff, and frequently, its own concerns. Within the Equity branch of the union, which represents actors, there is a concerted attempt to keep the big movie producers onside, as this can help in pay negotiations and the like. But the journalists in the union are as a rule opposed to any internet filtering.

Yesterday’s spurned submission, which read like it could have been written by the film industry lobby, ultimately went too far. While the union has uniformly advocated for members to be paid for their work (something that copyright infringement deprives them of), it has also always opposed an internet filter. As it was a breach of long-standing policy that caught even some within the MEAA by surprise, it’s no wonder the submission was quickly repudiated.

It’s not the first time the Media and Equity branches of the union have been at odds; earlier this year tensions ran high over attempts to replace the current elected federal secretary position, which heads the union, with that of an appointed CEO.

There were, even within the journalists on the federal council who voted on the proposal, differing views, but many believed the majority was in favour of keeping the current model. But the Equity section of the union caucused amoung themselves and produced a binding resolution to vote for an appointed CEO, tipping the scales strongly in favour of ditching the current model.

Those who were there told Crikey the Equity branch had concerns an elected position could be held by one person for many years, and were attracted to the ability to fire a non-performing CEO. But they also feared that any elected position would see journalists dominating the candidate lists, and believed an appointed CEO would be more likely to consider the needs of the actors in the union.

Disclosure: The author is Private Media’s staff MEAA rep.