Think of the Children: Parallels Between Australia and Totalitarian Regimes on Censorship

In the middle of December, an article was published by a senior News Corp executive in Australia that claimed among other things that those standing against censorship in Australia were “communists” who had no real understanding of history.

We’re not linking to an organization that purposely defames those who disagree with it, but the article claimed that there was no parallels between what is happening in Australia, and what has previously occurred in places like Nazi Germany, Iran or China.

“…the arguments being mounted against his plan – and specifically against him [Conroy], as for some unfathomable reason this has become a bitchy personal campaign – fall into three woeful categories. The historically inaccurate, the deliberately incorrect, and the morally ambivalent…..casually compare the conduct of the Rudd Government to the dictatorships in China, Iran, Burma, the former Soviet Bloc.”

I have to LOL at being called a Communist as it’s the first time I’ve been labeled anywhere moderately to the left of the center, but I digress because nothing speaks louder than facts to combat those who are so pathetic as to call those who disagree with them “communists.”

Won’t someone think of the children?

Censorship is always justified for a reason, usually on the grounds of protecting society from the content being censored. Children are usually somewhere near the top of the list.

Stephen Conroy

“It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material….The Government believes that parents want assistance to reduce the risk of children being exposed to such material.” (ref)

“Online safety is critical for children to enjoy positive internet experiences, and to protect themselves from danger.” (ref)

Adolf Hitler

“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as government is perceived as working for the benefit of children, the people happily will endure almost any curtailment of liberty.” (ref)

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

“Teachers and professors, you must be alert to watch your own colleagues to see if some of them are trying to teach deviating thoughts during their lessons to the children of our Islamic nation so that they can be stopped” (ref)

Lenin

Destroy the family, you destroy the country….Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted….ideological talk and phrase mongering about political liberties should be disposed with; all that is just mere chatter and phrase mongering. We should get away from those phrases.” (various…ref)

Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman for China on censorship

“If you have children or are expecting a child, you could understand the concerns of parents over unhealthy online content.” (ref)

When it starts

The broader history of censorship is full of examples where censorship is first introduced on a smaller scale, usually justified in protecting people, then over time becomes something far more sinister.

China quote

“Professor Jonathan Zittrain, of Harvard’s Berkman Center said: “Once you’ve got government-mandated software installed on each machine, the software has the keys to the kingdom… While the justification may be pitched as protecting children and mostly concerning pornography, once the architecture is set up it can be used for broader purposes, such as the filtering of political ideas.” (ref)

Once you have censorship, Government’s find extra uses, no matter what they say to begin with. Joseph Goebbels: “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion”

Nazi Germany

Of note to historians of Nazi Germany is the gradual increase in censorship from the beginnings of the Third Reich to its end. On the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda: “The Ministry grew steadily. It began in 1933 with five departments and 350 employees. By 1939, there were 2000 employees in 17 departments. Between 1933 and 1941, the Ministry’s budget grew from 14 million to 187 million Reichsmarks.” (ref.)

Conroy is boosting numbers in “cyber safety” including the hiring of an additional 91 police officers and an expansion of ACMA programs.

China

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Of note in China is that formal censorship is more of a late bloomer in the country, with all press owned by the State in China until well into the 80s and 90s (hence it was controlled by political means.) Foreign works were censored during the cultural revolution, however a broad basis under law came later. Of direct parallel (and mentioned above) is China’s more recent crackdown on pornography in an effort to “save the children.”

Iran

Censorship in Iran has expanded in the past year following the student uprising in 2009. Where as Iran had a fairly liberal censorship regime (for that part of the world) Iran now monitors and blocks large chunks of the internet and other forms of communication (no reference needed, check Google or Wikipedia for the latest.) The censorship infrastructure in place, it was simply a matter of expanding its reach.

Australia

The risk in Australia is presented by the misplaced popularism of the Government, specifically in its false belief that the policy is wanted. All it takes is some targeted lobbying from groups who will deliver votes to the ALP, and Conroy decides to extend the filter.

Minister Conroy has waffled about what would and wouldn’t be included since coming to power, along with a double back-flip on the filter being compulsory or not; remember it was Labor’s policy at the last election that the filter would be optional NOT compulsory. That Conroy now states that the filter will never be extended is impossible to believe given that he has already clearly changed what he has said previously.

Conclusion

Given a full day or five this post could be far more extensive in its examples of how Australia’s draconian internet censorship policy has rich historical precedents in other countries. However the examples prove to a point that the rhetoric and current direction of the Australian Government on censorship does have parallels with totalitarian regimes past and present.

You might be able to argue the degree of similarities, but remember that when Conroy says that someone should think of the children, he follows in the footsteps of Hitler, Lenin and many other dictators over the years. When he says that censorship is protecting us from bad stuff, he follows in the footsteps of Iran and China who both use the same arguments when defending their censorship laws.

The internet censorship proposal from the Australian Government must be stopped; even if we concede that the chances of Australia turning into the next Iran are slim, that there is a chance now the door is open is a chance never worth taking. Free speech is far too important to risk on a throw of a dice, or as the case may be the words of a Minister who is proven to be a man who can’t keep his word.