Australian classification changes go too far

[news release] “The proposed amendment to classification laws, currently before the Senate, aimed at restricting the publication of material that ‘advocates’ terrorism, are unnecessary, dangerous and inimical to essential freedom of communication. It is a further egregious example of the government’s consistent tendency to legislate limits on the public’s access to information,” says Professor Ken McKinnon, the Chairman of the Australian Press Council.The government has already demonstrated that it has at its disposal powers more than sufficient to restrict dangerous publications, including laws against sedition, advocacy of violence, racial vilification and various provisions within the Criminal Code and anti-terrorism legislation. The issuing of an “RC” classification by the Classification Review Board against Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan in 2006 clearly shows that the present scheme leads to bans on public access to material that advocates terrorism. In fact, the current classification powers are so sweeping that they even allowed the banning of Dr Philip Nitschke’s, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, action well beyond any desirable public restrictions on the free flow of information.The new proposals, if enacted, will not only put material that directly advocates terrorism outside the law but also anything considered by authorities to indirectly advocate terrorism. Opinion or commentary upon the news, or material that analyses the underlying causes of terrorism, may still be banned, given the narrow scope of the exemptions in the Bill. There is a justifiable fear that such material may be incorrectly regarded as “indirectly advocating” terrorism, which would inevitably lessen the availability of information to the public.Moreover, the fact that the standard of proof in classification will be “on the balance of probabilities”, a much lower standard than the normal criminal requirement of beyond reasonable doubt, will make the proposed regime abhorrent.In dealing with the threat of terrorism it is important that the public is well informed on matters related to it. Research into the background of terrorism and terrorist groups can assist in safeguarding an open and liberal democracy. Similarly, there is a need to ensure that material that can aid research, add to our understanding of terrorism and assist in reasoned debate on the issues should not be arbitrarily restricted as a result of a Bill that contains definitions of “advocacy” that are far too wide.See also:
Submission to a Senate Committee on the Classification legislationFor the news release on the Australian Press Council website, see ABC Radio National MEDIA REPORT with Antony Funnell – Censorship [Thursday 9 August]
New tighter classification rules for publications, films and computer games are before Parliament. We’ll hear why the Australian Press Council says the new laws are dangerous.

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