See No Evil . . .

Information on internet content under scrutiny by the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Office of Film and Literature Classification will not be publicly available to consumers free of charge, unlike information on censored films, videos, publications and computer games.

In fact, consumers may face charges in the order of thousands of dollars just to obtain a list of the websites that have been deemed "unsuitable" and have been issued with take-down notices.

The ABA began monitoring internet content in January following the implementation of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services Bill) 1999.

Censorship watchdog Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) is facing over $4500 in charges regarding a Freedom of Information application it sent to the ABA requesting information relating to the classification of internet content.

According to EFA board member Dale Clapperton, EFA requested information to identify which internet sites had been the subject of complaints and investigations and what the outcomes had been.

The organisation expects to be charged a processing fee of $30, plus some additional charges, but in fact may be liable for up to $4605.50, including charges for search and retrieval, examination, decision-making, copying and postage.

According to Clapperton, the request and affiliated charges are currently under review by the ABA following EFA's decision to contest the charge, most of which it is unable to afford.

"We are prepared to cover the costs of copying documents and a reasonable contribution toward costs of search and retrieval. However, as a voluntary nonprofit organisation we are unable to afford the charges of the size proposed," Clapperton wrote in a letter to the ABA.

He said that if the decision of the current review is "unfavourable", the EFA plans to appeal the decision through an internal review by the ABA and, if necessary, will lodge complaints with the Ombudsman and the Administration Appeals Tribunal.

"We're hoping it will be resolved with the ABA first," he said, adding that the organisation does not expect a response from the ABA before the end of April.

According to the letter from Maria Vissiliadis of the ABA, in addition to considering the appropriate charges, a "decision-maker" must also decide whether "the giving of access to the documents is in the general public interest".

Clapperton said the EFA believes that the availability of the information is in the public's interest, although the board is yet to decide what it will do with the information if it is obtained. The most likely outcome if the request is successful will be to make the information publicly available, Clapperton said.

"We requested the FOI because (the information) is not being made public," he said. "It's outrageous, it's really information that should be made public."

Clapperton's letter to the ABA states: "The process of assessing complaints about internet content should be open and accountable . . . The public interest is not serviced when decisions about internet content are made in secret."

While the EFA believes it is in the public's interest to obtain the information, the ABA has no plans to make the information available to anyone other than the complainant. "The operation of the scheme is designed to disseminate that information no wider than to the person who made the complaint," said Donald Robertson, an ABA spokesman.

"The object of the legislation is to remove the matter from the view of children, so by publicly displaying the information, we would be making it easier to find," Robertson said. "We consider it in the public interest not to have that displayed."

As a consolation, Robertson said the ABA will be publishing an account of the first three months of its internet regulation.

The account will be limited to an analysis of the complaints received by the ABA over the period, but will not include the URLs of the websites in question, he said.

Simon Webb, a director with the Office of Film and Literature Classification, was unable to say whether information on classified internet content will be available on the organisation's online databased (http://www.oflc.gov.au).

Information regarding other classified material, including, films, books and videos, is available from the online database.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about ABAAustralian Broadcasting AuthorityEFAElectronic Frontiers Australia

Show Comments