|Senator Kate Lundy. Photo: Mike Bowers|
Here’s a piece on the censorship debate Labor’s shadow minister for the arts and information technology, Senator Kate Lundy, wrote for Webdiary. It’s got resonance with Howard’s refusal to tell us the truth about why he wanted to invade Iraq and what that momentous decision means for our foreign policy direction and our security in the region. What I like about the piece is that Kate is not afraid to discuss what democracy means, and to apply her concept of it to the case in hand. Isn’t that what we’d love our pollies to do more of?
Classification, not censorship
by Kate Lundy
There is a seductive simplicity to banning things you don’t like or find scary. Like a child covering his eyes and ears, there is instant relief. At least, there is relief for as long as you can convince yourself that the nasty thing has gone away because you can’t see or hear it.
When governments start covering the eyes and ears of the whole nation, however, there is a real problem. We only need to look at those governments that have taken it to the extreme and burnt books to understand that. But there are more subtle ways to inhibit the flow of ideas that we need to be just as alert to.
Democracy is at its heart about a plurality of ideas and opinions, all in constant competition. Some of them are always going to be offensive to some, or even most, because that is the nature of the new.
But democracies survive and thrive when they find ways to look at things that are confronting or disturbing or ugly or strange. One of the ways it does that is through the classification of material. What we are really doing, of course, is classifying people – identifying those who are too young, vulnerable and impressionable to have the fully formed opinions or sexual maturity to be able to understand the sometimes complicated context within which sit the messages and meaning of particular art works. It has never been about denying the entry of ideas.
The recent controversy surrounding Ken Park in Australia shows have far we have strayed from these important principles into the simplistic world of “just ban it” thinking.
Film festivals have long been afforded a special status in the classification world: theirs is an audience of film connoisseurs drawn to occasions where the unusual, un-commercial, peculiar or even the confronting and scary are given an airing. These events are much closer in nature to the art gallery than the cinema multiplex. As such, films that were restricted to the greatest extent by our classification laws could still be shown, watched, critiqued and discussed.
It seems that is no longer the case, and this is the development that means we must not allow the issues raised by the Ken Park controversy to fade away like another one-week wonder story from our news media.
What has happened to this film has much to say about the way this Government has conducted itself, and the ugly results this is having on our national character and body politic. A hallmark of this Government has been the way it has moved by increments to have us accept situations that a few years ago would have been unthinkable.
Banning access to this and that has been a case in point. It began with Senator Alston’s trying to “ban” some content on the Internet that was legal in other media. This was a cynical political strategy to ingratiate himself with Senator Harradine when he needed votes for the original Telstra sale legislation. Alston has forever more been branded as the “world’s greatest Luddite” by the international technology press. At the same time, Labor’s calls for a sensible approach: giving parents the skills to ‘classify’ what their children accessed through supervision and filter tools at the desktop were ignored.
Emboldened rather than shamed, Alston has since tried to “ban” interactive (online) gambling, with just as little success. At least it could be said that there was little of merit in what the Government was seeking to keep out, even if its methods were half-witted and doomed to failure.
But the same forlorn, arch-conservatism that has crept into our treatment of motion pictures through the attitude of the Attorney-General toward controversial films over recent years. And what truly betrays this Government’s failure of imagination and respect for diversity is that no-one in the Coalition Government has stood up for the arts and the right of Australians to exposed themselves to confronting as well as new ideas and images.
It is time that as citizens we reminded ourselves that the only way to maintain a healthy democracy is to expose ideas to the light of commentary and intellectual challenge. Evil grows in dark corners, not out in the full glare of public attention.
Is Ken Park “kiddy porn” as conservatives would have us think, or does it have something to say about the endurance of the human spirit? Australians should not accept that they live in the only modern country in the world too immature that make up its own mind. We are not zombies to be manipulated, we should not be told what to think, and we should not be protected from an ugly truth, any more than we should tolerate being lied to.