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Letter to the Editor SMH 3rd. June 1995 - bobb's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Letter to the Editor SMH 3rd. June 1995 [Sep. 21st, 2008|03:38 pm]
Bob Bain
[Current Mood |nostalgicnostalgic]

5/136 Wycombe Road,
Neutral Bay, NSW 2089

Telephone (answering machine) (02) 953 4693
Internet: bobb@world.net Fidonet : 3:712/502 (Bob Bain)

3rd. June 1995

Letters to the Editor:

Dear Sir,

There has been debate in the press in recent months regarding the the
global network of interlinked computers known collectively as the
Internet. The Internet and other on-line services have operated
internationally for many years with the minimum of government
intervention and as a consequence people around the globe have been
able to communicate freely and for the most part have been free to
express their opinions without fear or retribution. However the
increasing use of such services has led to a situation where
legislators are currently seeking to regulate not only the Internet but
other on-line services.

The majority of societies where the Internet and other forms of
computer based communications proliferate are for the most part
democratic societies which allow freedom of expression to their
citizens. In some nations such as the United States this freedom is
embedded in their constitution.

In the former USSR it was alleged 'freedom of expression' was denied
it's citizens; the citizens of that state living in fear of a cold hard
knock at the door followed by summary arrest without trial and possible
execution for the expression of ideas contrary to the formal ideology
of that state. In years past I wrote to people in the former Soviet
Union using the international language 'Esperanto' noting that often
letters containing accounts of my life, my freedom to travel and the
state of politics in various parts of the globe were simply lost.

Freedom of expression is however often hindered by regulation where the
penalties are somewhat less harsh. I am reminded that the most
democratic of nations have from time to time imposed regulations which
seek to hinder freedom of thought and the democratic interchange of

As an example of the supression of ideas I note that between 1921 and
1929 the teaching and dissemination of ideas relating to Charles
Darwin's theory of Evolution was banned within seven states of the
United States despite the rights of freedom of expession granted in
their Constitution. As a consequence a schoolteacher named John Scopes
was tried for teaching such ideas and was found guilty and fined $100.
Afterwards pressure from fundamentalist religious groups ensured that
school text books relating to biology made only passing reference to
his theories.

I quote from a book "Confronting Creationism" published by the New
South Wales University Press in 1987.

"... state departments of education, local school boards and parent
organisations (they) were effective in banning the use of high school
biology textbooks that included serious treatment of evolution. In
order to maintain their sales, publishers bagan to pare down or delete
references to evolution in their high school textbooks and so,
irrespective of whether a state or school wished to teach evolution the
requisite books were hard to find. From the 1930's to the 1950's, over
the greater part of the USA most high school pupils learnt little more
about evolution than it was a 'theory' which some people believed in."

It is worth recalling that freedom of expression was also something
denied to Galileo who was placed under house arrest several centuries
ago for declaring that the Earth moved around the Sun, apparantly
muttering under his breath "but it moves" when asked to recant.

The point isn't so much as to whether Darwin's theories are correct or
whether the Earth moves around the sun, but the right of people to
express themselves openly and without fear, with debate and free
expression ruling wherever possible over dogmatic and sometimes
irrational views enforced by what can be the irrational weight of law.

In the United States those who seek to impose regulation are currently
doing so based on the 'local community standards' of states such as
Tennessee or Alabama. I for one do not live in Tennessee or Alabama,
and given the nature of these states; states with a long history of
racial tension and hatred often reinforced by law I believe it is
important to counter attempts to regulate international global
communication based on the laws of states whose idealism may not be in
accordance with our own 'local community standards' assuming such
standards could be fully defined.

I am not necessarily arguing for or against what can or should not be
available via international on-line services such as the Internet, for
being a democrat I believe that the democratic and hopefully reasonable
liberal view of the majority will prevail. However even in the most
democratic societies governments operating in the interests of their
citizens create and amend laws which govern and regulate the conduct of
those citizens, imposing limits on personal freedom in the interests of
the common good.

In this respect in 1984 the government of New South Wales placed into
law the "Film and Video Tape Classification Act". Part of this act
prohibits the display or sale of a video or film unclassified by the
censorship board and I quote section 32 (1):-

"A person shall not display, for the purposes of sale, or sell an
unclassified film or cause or permit an unclassified film to be
displayed or sold".

In relation to what can or cannot be sold the act states in section 2:-

" The censor shall refuse to classify a film for which an application
for classification has been made where the film:

(a) describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of
sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty or violence, or
revolting or abhorrent phenomena, in such a manner that is likely
to cause offence to a reasonable adult;

(b) is a child abuse film;

(c) describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with sexual
activity of any kind between a human being and an animal; or

(d) promotes, incites, or encourages terrorism within the meaning of
the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 of the

The difficulty with section 2(a) in this ill defined act is that what
is or is not likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult is often
debatable for adults and even children have differing ideas as to what
is or is not offensive.

In February 1994 the "Bulletin" magazine carried an article devoted to
these issues, pointing out that video material that could be offensive
to some people was freely avaialable in New South Wales. It is
interesting to note that most (if not all) the material so available
was produced overseas, and that the master tapes must have been
imported into Australia.

As far as the Internet goes I can understand the feelings of some
people and the reasons why they wish to impose censorship. Recently an
advertiser on the Internet was advertising amongst other things a video
which begins with the description:-

"Master Keith kidnaps a pretty blond young woman off the street. He
knocks her out and brings the helpless woman to a warehouse/garage.
Inside the garage he strips her and ties her legs.. adding "Personally
I like this film, because it's simple, one hoist, a unique surreal
environment, and above all some good real whipping of a pretty good
looking wench." ending with "fight censorship on the superinformation

I would like to add that I find this objectionable. However one
doesn't need to use the Internet to locate the video for it, or similar
videos are available on open shelves in a number of outlets accesible
to the public in New South Wales, along with videos that may or may not
cause offence to a reasonable adult, assuming such a mythical human
being could be ever be found and that his/her views are immutable and
not subject to the whims and fancy of passing fads. In this respect I
am reminded that a leading computer scientist/mathematician Alan Turing
commited suicide in the 1950's after being convicted for homosexuality.
Had he lived on to 1995 he could no doubt if he chose to have taken
part in government aided 'mardi gras', such is the nature of passing

Last year I believe the Film and Video classification Act was amended
to include the classification of computer games and other computer
related material. It is an observation that despite these amendments
very little is being done to fully enforce the sale of such video

These are difficult areas for governments; for if laws are ignored or
unenforcable, or no longer in accordance with community standards then
clearly something is wrong with the law and amendments should be made,
be they either for increased censorship or perhaps a liberalisation of
censorship laws. Laws unacceptable to many are often not enforced.

For legislators considering what is an is not acceptable via on-line
communications consider that the Internet may be the ultimate test of
democracy, and that simply banning thought or expression because "I
don't like it" may not be in the best interests of human idealism or

The Internet has recently made inroads into communist states such as
the People's Republic of China. What is or what is not acceptable to
the hardy souls in charge of communist China, or the religious
sensitivies of those who live in the states of Tennesee or Alabama
should not, in my opinion, limit freedom of expression, political or
otherwise in modern day Australia.

Robert Bain

This letter was never published. I no longer live at the address shown and don't even recognise the email address but it was almost certainly valid at the time. The Fidonet address is almost certainly that of Jenny Allen's "Paragon BBS" to which I posted locally (to the local BBS forums and via email to the sysop Jenny and her "usual mob") - nationally via networked forums and internationally to the United Kingdom (big bruv in Cornwall) via Fidonet mail for several years. At that date I was still working as Systems Accountant for Reader's Digest - a company I worked for for just over 20 years (to September 1996) - 11 of them improving their accounting systems such that information was quickly and freely obtained while profits soared. The "Digest" (despite it's faults) always argued for freedom of expression and was opposed to the alleged oppression of the Communist world. Now much of the former Soviet Bloc is "free" (freedoms we fought for) and despite a certain amount of hype China has expanded it's networks from a single link to a University Computer with minimal information to a much larger (if censored) network.

Fidonet has (to all extents and purposes) died and the world has changed. Sometimes I feel like the traveler in the film "The Time Machine" who watches as the events of history change rapidly from his point of view while from the point of view of those in the "real world" "very little" changes at all.

I am reviewing disks of old archived material seeking a copy of the controversial film Ken Park which I know I legally downloaded from the .net at the time everyone else was doing so. There was no ADSL2+ at that time and the download (perfectly legal) took three days via a peer to peer network - the name of which escapes me.

The file is marked (by Windows '95) "Monday, 12 June 1995, 3:11:22 PM" which means I probably spent at least nine days assembling my thoughts in non-archived screeds. Years later someone in the archived ANU "Link List" asked "Why don't you bring this hypocrisy to the attention of the press ? " With due respect I have been attempting to do so for at least 16 years and this is but just one example - another being an article written for CLEO magazine rejected by the editor on the grounds that such issues were not considered appropriate for the reader's of their magazine. Cleo was being censored by the government at the time I seem to recall - possibly due to their articles on oral sex and sexual satisfaction.

There are other items on these disks that bring tears to my eyes.

bob of blogspot