Examples of Censorship in Australia

Film Censorship

Mysterious Skin and Nine Songs: at their time of release both of these films caused considerable controversy with regards to censorship and community concern in Australia. Mysterious Skin (2004) directed by Gregg Arakiwas one of the most controversial films to be classified in recent years. The film explores the effects and devastation of child sexual abuse from the victim’s perspective. The two teenage protagonists (Neil and Brian) were both sexually abused by their baseball coach at the age of eight. Because the film contained high impact themes such as: sexual abuse, sexual violence and paedophilia, the film’s original classification was R18+. Due to community concern in South Australia over the film's paedophilia themes, the film's classification was reviewed at the request of the Commonwealth Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and the South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson. However, the review board of the South Australian Classification Council upheld its classification of R18+, commenting that the film was an artistic expression, furthermore the film was educational in regards to the issue of child sexual abuse and its impact on young children.

Similarly the film Nine Songs (2004) directed by Michael Winterbottom caused much concern and controversy upon its release in South Australia. The film contains actual sex between the two main protagonists Matt and Lisa. Actual sex is usual of pornographic films not artistic films. Other themes included drug use, bondage, course language and nudity. The Australian Classification Board originally gave the film an X18+ classification however, after an appeal by the film's distributor Accent Film Entertainment; the Classification Board review the film therefore giving it an R18+ classification. However, South Australian film censorship laws considered the film as being pornographic not artistic. Therefore, Nine Songs could not be released in South Australian because the film contained actual sex not simulated.

Both of these films challenged the Australian and in particularly South Australian film censorship laws. The cases presented by both the community and government to review the films classification are interesting and sad. I as a film admirer can see the concern with the films themes; however, they are films not actual depictions.

Australia has a long history of film censorship and consequential criticism of it . On September 20th 1969, The Age, published the article "Orgasms are obscene, said a censor" , refering to the banning of the film Marinetti in which a women simulates having an orgasm specifically, but overall making strong protest against the censorship of films in Australia. The article states "Australia cut or ban more feature films than they leave intact" and goes on to liken Australian censors to Joseph Stalin ( Which in the context of The Cold War was a highly-loaded and offensive statement) . This is certainly an example of the "Fouth Estate" in action.

An example of a form of institutional film censorship, and formal censorship, would be the FEDCAC where films need to adhere to Codes set out for them. If they don't then they fail exhibition and distribution.

Creative Arts Censorship

Artist Greg Taylor's exhibition 'Cunts and Other Conversations ' at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, consisted of over 140 life size sculptures of women vaginas was censored by the council and Australia Post. The invitations due to be sent to VIP's and the media were intersected by an Australian Post worker who took it upon himself to alert or whistle blow his employer that the material shown on the invite (a picture of two vagina sculptures with the word 'cunts') was too offensive to a 'reasonable person.' The Australian Post then threatened legal action if the offensive material was not collected. The council also removed posters advertising the exhibition from only 2 complaints and Taylor could not find a distribution company that would handle the posters because of the offensiveness of the word 'cunt.' This type of informal censorship enforced by the community did not hinder the exhibition, with 2000 people visiting the exhibition on the first day, ranging from mothers and their daughters to university groups.

Bill Henson, a contemporary photographer created controversy when he tried to open his exhibition in Paddington in May 2008, which included photos of naked children as young as 12 years old. The censorship of his work created controversy over whether the photographs had artistic merit. Politicians joined in on the debate over what is considered art, and what is considered child pornography. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said the images are 'revolting' and have no artistic value. Former NSW Premier Iemma said the images are 'offensive and disgusting'. This raises the question whether politicians' roles should include authority on censoring art. Bill Henson stated that art is subjective and that you 'can't control the way individuals respond to the work.' The images ended up being censored. A web page displayed the naked images, but they were quickly removed and investigated. It was stated that the exhibition was never officially classified, as art is considered exempt. The question is, should art be classified? *Article ('Police to quiz kids in Bill Henson nude shots')

Video Game Censorship

Currently, there is no R18+ or X18+ rating for video games in Australia. This means that any game that exceeds the MA15+ classification is banned, refused classification and entry into the Australian market. This lack of an R18+ and X18+ rating for video games has been the major issue of complaint in the gaming community in Australia. The main argument against the refusal for classification for video games is based on freedom and the principles of Government classification. It is mentioned in the principles of Government classification that, "Adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want". This is a valid argument supporting the need for classification of particular video games. In Australia, the R18+ and X18+ classifications exist for print media and film, so it is argued that there is no reason why adults should be prohibited from seeing content in video games that they would not already see or experience in movies and books.

On the other hand, the principles of Government classification does add a few points to counter the above argument. Government classification states that, "[it is vital to].. protect minors [,] protect everyone from unsolicited offensive material [and] protect community standards". Indeed, minors should not be exposed to games containing violence and the promotion of illegal and immoral action. If the video game industry was allowed classification for R18+ and X18+ content, some would argue that it should then be the responsibility for retailers to refuse selling these games to minors, and also the responsibility for parents to monitor their childrens' consumption of video games. Despite the ban on video games that contain adult material, those within the gaming community have managed to gain access to banned content through the use of file sharing applications and protocols. It is possible that some games have become more popular after being banned, as the ban and the publicity from it can pique interest in the game, and fuel illegal file sharing.

Grand Theft Auto 3
One of the more notable examples of computer games being censored in Australia can be seen in Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001) on the Playstation 2. In late 2001, Take 2 Interactive Software jumped the gun and released this title assuming the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) would award it an MA15+ rating. The game was shipped to stores and made available for sale. This proved a costly mistake however, as the Classification Board gave it an RC (refused classification) rating on November 28th 2001.
The West Australian article 'GAMES TURN DEADLY SERIOUS' (25/4/04) comments on this ruling, with Des Clark saying:

"(The player) pays a prostitute to get in a car, they bonk, they get out and he bashes her to death with a baseball bat and gets the money back," OFLC director Des Clark said. "Conceptually that's an extremely high level of violence - and that was RC (refused classification)."

This impact of violence and sexual activity was higher if you were rewarded with status and money for your actions. He said the OFLC was concerned about the increase in graphical detail - including "blood spurts" and sleazy environments - but any game that went too far would be refused classification.

Take 2 Interactive Software had no choice but to implement a re-call of all game copies still on shelf. A revised version of the game was ultimately released with a whole seven seconds worth of game axed, eventually gaining a MA15+ rating.

Another notable example of video game censorship in Australia is the case of the 2003 video game Manhunt by Rockstar (the same developer as the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto 3). The controversy revolved around the fact that the game had been given an MA15+ rating and approved for sale, before having it's classification revoked in September of the following year. The review of its rating had been sparked by a murder in the United Kingdom in which one teenager had been murdered by another, and several newspaper reports had drawn a connection between this crime and the game, a copy of which was supposedly owned by the murderer. However, this was denied by the police , who instead concluded that the murder had been drug-motivated. Once the tabloid-motivated hysteria had died down (which, incidentally, sparked a notable increase in sales for the game ) it emerged that the a copy of Manhunt had not, in fact, been owned by the murderer, but rather the victim.

Despite this, as a result of the game's supposed role in the murder, Manhunt was refused classification in Australia and is no longer available for sale.

Australian Censorship and the Pornography Industry

"Any country that has sexual censorship will eventually have political censorship" (Tynan 1987)
February 1st 1984 saw the introduction of the X18+ rating to cover all forms of hardcore pornography. Soon after its introduction however all States moved to outlaw the sale or rental of any film that fell into this classification. As such it is only legal to buy or rent X18+ rated features in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. It is legal however for people in the States to mail-order X18+ product from the ACT or NT. In 2000 the Industry agreed to a tightening of the Guidelines providing that the X18+ would be scrapped in favour of an NVE (Non-Violent Erotica) rating. It was hoped that this would be much more acceptable to the States. Unfortunately, this backfired and the X18+ was retained, whilst the guidelines were tightened as such:

No Depiction of sexual violence, coercion or non-consent of any kind is permitted in this classification. Material which can be accommodated in this classification includes explicit depictions of sexual acts between consenting adults and mild non-violent fetishes.
This classification is a special and legally restricted category which contains only sexually explicit material. That is material which contains real depictions of actual sexual intercourse and other sexual activity between consenting adults.

Any depictions of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed within the category. Nor does it allow for any form of sexually assaultive language - or consensual depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that activity for the enjoyment of the viewer. Fetishes such as body piercing, bondage, spanking or fisting are not permitted. As the category is restricted to activity between consenting adults, it does not permit any depictions of non-adult persons, including those aged 16 or 17, nor of adult persons who look like they are under 18 years. Any presentation of persons 18 years of age or over that are portrayed as minors is also restricted. At present the Sale and Rental of Hardcore features remains banned in all States, whilst the distributors based in the ACT and NT can still supply product to them via mail order. This has however lead to a situation where many adult shops in some States simply ignore the Classifications altogether. Consequently much more extreme material can be found for sale or rental there, than in the ACT where Hardcore is legal, but strictly policed.

Music Censorship

Music is mainly regulated by the Australian Recording Industry Association and the Australian Music Retailers Association.The current classification scheme was introduced on April 1, 2003, with the following four levels:

Level 1: WARNING: MODERATE IMPACT coarse language and/or themes
These recordings contain infrequent aggressive or strong coarse language and moderate impact references to drug use, violence, sexual activity, themes and/or any other abhorrent activity.

Level 2: WARNING: STRONG IMPACT coarse language and/or themes
These recordings contain frequent aggressive or strong coarse language and strong impact references to (or detailed description of) drug use, violence, sexual activity, themes and/or any other abhorrent activity.

Level 3: RESTRICTED: HIGH IMPACT THEMES Not to be sold to persons under 18 years
These recordings contain graphic descriptions of drug use, violence, sexual activity, themes and/or any other abhorrent activity that are very intense and have a high impact. They are not to be sold to anyone under the age of 18; proof of age is required to purchase these recordings.

Exceeding Level 3: Not To Be Sold To The Public
These recordings contain lyrics which promote, incite, instruct and/or depict drug use, violence, sexual activity, themes and/or any other abhorrent activity in a manner that would cause outrage and/or extreme disgust to most adults. They are not permitted to be released, distributed or sold to the public.

However, it is worth noting that these classifications and guidelines carry absolutely no legal ground and are strictly self regulated

Internet Censorship

Internet censorship in Australia refers to the proposed banning of certain internet materials by the Australian Federal Government, through restriction of site access on all Australian Internet Services Providers. The Internet censorship regime in Australia comprises law and regulation at both Commonwealth and State/Territory Government level.

Commonwealth law applies to Internet Content Hosts ("ICHs") and Internet Service Providers ("ISPs"), but not to content providers/creators or ordinary Internet users.The law requires Australian ISPs and ICHs to delete content from their servers (Web, Usenet, FTP, etc.) that is deemed "objectionable" or "unsuitable for minors" and/or for downloading content that is illegal to possess.

State and Territory criminal laws apply to content providers/creators and ordinary Internet users.Some States/Territories have laws enabling prosecution of ordinary Internet users and other content providers for making available material that is deemed "objectionable" or "unsuitable for minors" and/or for downloading content that is illegal to possess. The particular provisions of these laws vary among the States and Territories.

Suicide Related Materials Offences Act, came into effect In 2006, which declares it illegal to use the internet to promote suicide.

Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, came into effect in 2007 .Under Schedule 7, if a content provider provides material that is rated R18+ or MA15+, then the provider must verify the age of the person accessing the material. It remains illegal in Australia to host material that is rated X18+ or that has been refused classification. By contrast, X18+ material is legal to buy and own in Australia if it is in print or other traditional form (See above "Australian Censorship and the Pornography Industry") Organisations such as the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties are highly critical of these Schedules and have called for their repeal.

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The Material Censorship

Critical Evaluation
"So that today nearly every citizen of an enlightened sociegty is wired to the Tower and yet remains only marginally aware of the attachment"(Jansen1988:38)
"Enlighted Society" is referred to Modern liberalism in which is associated with the eighteen centuary enlightenment."Tower"(with T in capital) denotes Media

conglomerates towering over the worldwide liberal societies with conspicious motives. The powerful state and elites possess imense control over the flow of infornation and the dissemenation of media product. The conspicious motives are to exert "the material censorship" as a form of moral oppression against "individual autonomy" to secure:1)recipients' committment for material goals;2)the capitalist social order in "liberal" societies. Though such remains barely awared by the majority.

Jansen mentioned the phrase "The Material Censorship" in the context of the Communist revolution programe in the nineteeth-centuary. Perception of the the general public relies on the consequences of economic decadence, the condemned human rights violation by the censoring dictatorship etc. Whereas, the idea that was a proletarian of revolution against the capitalist repression has long omitted through the facilitation of media. Most crucially, the encroachment of a censoring acceptance of the capitalst society is however, seldom questioned in the liberal capitalist society.

Jansen invited reader to engage with the idea of Enlightenment, which is involved with the powerful of knowledge. The issues of liberal domocracy and participatory democracy is much related with the recognition of knowledge elite who is capable to "participate" in the democratic regime. However, its intensity is further dimished "the material censorship" assisted by the mass media. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is a famous phrase in the US decleration of independence, signifies the desire and spirit of democraty of the American people.They obtained freedom and alinenable right against the colonial oppression, and strived to be ruled by their elected government. However, the apprehension of "the pursuit of happiness" is changed under the influence of media.(in the 2006 movie act by Smith) It portraited the glory that lies in the resistance of inferiority and poverty, it fortifies people to pursue financial freedom and sanctity of material wealth. We can witness many intelligent force are lured by the materialistic dynamic such deviates against the passion for democracy.

A cynical journalist Shelly Gare noted in her book The Triumph of Airheads and Retreat from the Commonsense, that "...bright mathes and science kids are rush straight into careers in investment banking and business consultancy for the truckload of money.... In the financial year ending March 2006, Macquarie bank received 75,000 job applications." Moreover, the mass media received critical comment about their strategic inclination towards "overt dependence on commercialism" in which would "present danger to citizen participation in public affairs, understanding of public issues, and thus to the effective working of democracy"(Herman1997:1)Indeed, the capital scheme of values ought to be nothing more substantially than "greed,lust avarice,envy and pride", and yet now these has transposed into social virtue.

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Herman,E. & McChesney,R. (1997) The Global Media: the new missionaries of global capitalism, London: Cassell.