[LINK] Hey, Senator - leave us discerning viewers of pornography alone

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Sat Jan 24 14:46:10 AEDT 2009

Hey, Senator - leave us discerning viewers of pornography alone
Helen Razer
January 24, 2009

The famous maxim "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the 
death your right to say it" was never actually uttered by Voltaire. It 
was the work of an upright lady named Evelyn Hall, summarising his 
attitudes in her book, The Friends Of Voltaire. An exacting biographer, 
she was aghast to find the quote misattributed. And she might rethink 
writing it at all in the era of the internet.

In any case, Stephen Conroy probably wouldn't let her.

In case you hadn't heard, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Communications 
Minister, will soon serve Australians a smut-free internet. Or, at the 
very least, he'll soon supervise the audition for his sanitised feed. 
Late last year he announced it on his now-defunct blog. Any day now, 
some of Australia's internet service providers - the companies you pay 
for your web access - will join in a pilot of the minister's filter.

It will defend to the death our right to be spared from digital filth.

Part of the Federal Government's cyber-safety plan, the initiative will 
block content blacklisted by the Australian Communications and Media 
Authority. It is claimed the blacklist will prohibit access to child 
pornography - and no rational person would argue with that. Not even 
Evelyn Hall or Voltaire. And certainly not me.

Nonetheless, rational people are arguing with a scheme that could block 
anything a government authority doesn't fancy.

Last November, Conroy said the blacklist would filter child-porn sites 
as well as "other unwanted content". How untoward those "other" sites 
might be is not a matter for public discussion. The authority's list is 

Naturally, advocates for free speech are troubled and one might say 
their concerns have been answered with dogged piety. "If people equate 
freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor 
Government is going to disagree," Conroy said in 2007.

According to some, this particular ministerial blogger has been nothing 
short of bolshie. To those who fear their speech will be stifled, or 
their net access slowed, he has offered a stubborn response: if you're 
opposed to the department's cyber-safety plan, you are opposed to the 
protection of children.

His evangelical logic seems lost on many, and not only civil liberties 
groups who are unhappy with his Reverend Lovejoy decree. Much of the IT 
community is adamant the clean feed will slow our connectivity. Normally 
moderate thinkers are horrified that we're taking cultural cues from 
China and North Korea. Even some child protection workers gently suggest 
that federal attention and funds would be better disbursed elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it remains difficult to counter the 
won't-someone-think-of-the-children reasoning without being branded a 
perve. Upright people are trying, though. They've been loud and eloquent 
in their censure.

It's time for the less seemly to have their say. It's time for fans of 
Voltaire, and his civil biographer, Miss Hall, to defend to the death 
the tastes of people like me. It's time to ask: "Won't someone think of 
the porn fans?"

I enjoy pornography. Perhaps not quite so much as I enjoy living among 
citizens who take an entitlement to free speech for granted. But I do 
like it quite a lot. And it seems that my porn is endangered.

If Conroy's clean feed works, which some tech sceptics argue that it 
cannot, it will prevent access to all pornography. According to the 
interpretation of Electronic Frontiers Australia and other advocates, 
the clean feed will mean that garden-variety X-rated material may not be 
viewed online in Australian territory. Further, R18+ content will be 
prohibited. And MA15+ sites hosted in Australia will probably go as 
well. According to the communication authority's criteria, everything 
saucy must go.

This will certainly save many Australian adults thousands of hours. This 
will possibly save a handful of unsupervised minors from harm.

But not many. As a keen internet hobbyist, I can report that one doesn't 
simply amble into X-rated or even R18+ material. One must actively seek 
it. I have become adept at this; children, presumably, have not. And if 
they have, clearly they are the issue of the world's most reprehensible 
parents and should be sent to live with Hetty Johnston forthwith.

The usefulness of the World Wide Web is threatened by Conroy. I have 
found the medium terribly instructive. When I am lacking culinary 
inspiration, I will browse a recipe database. When my writing is 
misfiring, I catch up with The New Yorker. And when my boudoir has 
become as flavourless as my writing or my food, I go to a website that 
propriety will not permit me to divulge.

I am very grateful for the DIY stylings of my internet teachers. And I 
imagine many others are grateful for the inspiration that gushes from 
these amateur couplings as well.

Despite the best efforts of some, there is no evidence that pornography 
will negatively affect me or other consenting adults.

The only lasting effect of my access to porn is a reflex giggle when the 
pizza delivery man knocks on my door.

Helen Razer is an author and broadcaster.


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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