Friday, July 18, 2008

New censorship rules for Australian web and mobile phone content

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has approved the IIA code of practice for online and mobile phone content in Australia. This code has legal force under Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Act. It replaces two previously separate codes of practice which covered internet content and mobile phone content separately.

Significant features are that X rated content is completely banned, while R and MA content requires some form of access control to prevent viewing by children. What is not clear is how much these restrictions apply to non-commercial content and how effective they can be govern that they only apply to Australia based services. The code does apply to those providing links to restricted content.

The IIA also provide a Guide for ISPs: General Information About Online Content and a Guide for Internet Users: Information About Online Content.

While it is difficult to object to procedures for stopping children from viewing adult material, it is less clear why adults should be completely banned from such content. Also there is a risk to democracy from such systems. A future government might well expand the definition of objectionable material under the guise of protecting society from terrorism. There would be no way to know what was banned, as the list of what is banned is not published. In an extreme case even news web sites mentioning such censorship could themselves be censored. Such a system is already implemented in China. As the convergence of media, TV, phones and the Internet continues, it could reach a point where such a system could be introduced without the public being aware of it.
The main elements of the new content regulatory framework introduced by Schedule 7 are:
  • a prohibition on X18+ and RC content;
  • a prohibition on R18+ content, unless it is subject to appropriate access restrictions;
  • a new prohibition on commercial MA15+ content, unless it is subject to appropriate access restrictions;
  • providers of hosting services, live content services, link services and commercial content services to have in place access restrictions if providing R18+ and MA15+ content;
  • ‘take down’ or ‘access removal’ notices to remove access to content that is the subject of a complaint; and
  • a co-regulatory approach that provides for the development of an industry code to address issues including the classification of content, procedures for handling complaints about content and increasing awareness of potential safety issues associated with the use of content services. ...
From: ACMA approves industry code of practice to protect children from unsuitable online and mobile phone content, ACMA media release 88/2008, 16 July 2008

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