Censorship In Australia Essay

Do we have any Australian TLF readers out there? If so, I’d be interested in their input about how well video game censorship works down under.

I follow Australian content regulation via the wonderful “Somebody Think of the Children!” blog, operated by Michael Meloni of Brisbane, Australia. (Mike, if you’re listening, you have at least one big fan here in the U.S. and thank you for keeping the rest of us up-to-speed about censorship developments on the other side of the globe!) This week, Mike reports that another video game (“F.E.A.R. 2”) was refused classification by the Australian government’s Classification Board. Apparently, the “refused classification” designation is the equivalent of a ban in Australia. And F.E.A.R. 2 is the fifth game to receive that designation in 2008. (Other games that have been censored, or subject to some sort of political investigation or pressure, are inventoried at the “Refused Classification.com” website.)

First, let me just say that this again reminds me how lucky we are to have strong free speech protections here in the United States thanks to the First Amendment of our Constitution. I do so much bitching about efforts to regulate speech and media content (especially video games) that I sometimes fail to step back and appreciate how fortunate we are here in the U.S. to not have to worry about an official government ratings body overseeing all game releases. This really hit home for me when I read that “Fallout 3” was one of the 5 games banned this year. It’s a brilliant game and I just can believe it would be censored such that the Australian public could not play the same version of it that I can.

Second, I’m wondering how well these bans work in Australia. A big part of my research on speech regulation is focused on the practicality of censorship in the modern Information Age. [See my “End of Censorship” essay.] Thus — taking off my advocate hat and putting on my academic hat — I would be very interested in hearing from Australians about how effective these regulatory schemes are in practice. Can you still get games from overseas and play them on consoles and PCs in Australia? Do you download uncensored versions (either legally or illegally)? Does the government take steps to stem the flow of unregulated content? Or, are most citizens willing to just played the censored version of games that the Australian government eventually authorizes? Have there been academic studies done on the practical side of content censorship in Australia?

You get the idea. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

[Note: I have also been following the Australian government’s big recent push for centralized Internet filtering. Would be interested in input as that as well from Australians citizens.]

Introduction

Throughout World War II, the Australian government centralised Australia's economy and war effort. While co-ordinating Australia's labour market and directing labour to critical war industries, the government also conducted a policy of censorship.

The government controlled information that was made public - in printed media, on the radio, and other forms of communication. The censorship was conducted to prevent important information about Australia's war time strategies and capabilities becoming known to the enemy and to shield Australia from bad news and promote enthusiasm for the war. Censorship sometimes involved propaganda.

Censorship

Censorship is a sensitive issue for democratic countries such as Australia, the United States and Britain, as freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of Western democracy. In times of political turmoil and war, however, varying degrees of censorship, filtering and controlling information have been adopted. See image 1

In Australia during World War II, the government exercised significant powers over censorship and the release of sensitive information to the public. The government created the Department of Information, overseen by the Director-General of Information, newspaper-owner Keith Murdoch. The department was given wide-ranging powers to suppress (not publish, not allow to make known) information and direct newspapers towards a government-approved opinion - there was no dissent allowed.
Censorship was seen not only as an important tool to stop the enemy from learning important information, but also to maintain public morale and enthusiasm for the war which seemed, for much of the time, far from home.
There were many things to suppress. Australia was not prepared for war. The military forces were depleted, ships and planes obsolete, troops untrained. The Department of Information had to cover the government's unpreparedness for war.
Censorship was not always welcomed in Australia. By 1942, many Australians were widely aware of the government's role in handing out information. Censorship was resented and criticised - it was seen as the government withholding the truth and manipulating the Australian public. Some Australians were deeply mistrustful of the information published by the government.
One example of government censorship occurred when Japanese planes conducted two devastating air raids over Darwin in February 1941. In a newspaper article published on 21 February in the Melbourne Argus it was recorded:
'17 killed in raids on Darwin, 6 enemy planes shot down… In 2 air raids on Darwin yesterday it is believed that the total casualties were 17 killed and 24 wounded. Nine of the civilian fatalities were members of the Darwin Post Office staff, including the postmaster, his wife, and daughter. Latest information received at RAAF headquarters indicates that in yesterday's raids no vital damage was done to RAAF installations…'
In reality, 243 people died in the raids, and there were 300-400 casualties. This is an example of how the government used censorship to suppress information about the extent of the damage done in the Japanese air raids in an attempt to prevent panic among the Australian public.

Propaganda

Propaganda involves the government presenting a certain type of message to the public aimed at influencing public opinion, often appealing to emotions.

The propaganda can take the form of posters, radio programs, film reels - any type of media which can be communicated to a wide audience easily.
Often propaganda provides important sentiments about contemporary issues but, after the event, can be understood as discriminating and stereotypical.
Australia in World War I had a very prolific propaganda machine. Often the propaganda degraded the Germans and emphasised Western power over them. The propaganda was intended to drum up support for the Australian war effort while vilifying the Germans.
Much of the Australian propaganda pieces of World War II were directed towards the Japanese. Slogans were popular - 'We've Always Despised Them - Now We Must Smash Them' and 'Every One A Killer'.
The Japanese soldier was stereotyped as small, black haired, buck-toothed, wearing big thick glasses and having tiny eyes. The Department of Information launched a propaganda campaign which stirred up hatred for the Japanese. See image 2
Propaganda was aimed at creating fear and hatred which today would be considered as racial discrimination. Propaganda and censorship worked together to create a mood in Australia which vilified the enemy, dulled down defeats, emphasised victories and ensured the Australians would accept government changes to society for the greater good - the war effort.

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