Refused classification and the proposed Australian Internet filter: an assault on the open society

John Hartley, Lelia Green, Catharine Lumby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates issues surrounding the Australian government’s proposed Internet ‘filter’ (censorship regime), to be based on existing ‘Refused Classification’ prohibitions relating to other media such as film and video or publications. The planned legislation has focused debate on government intervention in relation to the risks and dangers posed by the Internet, rather than on the responsibilities and opportunities for both cultural and economic growth via online networks, where potentially every user is a producer as well as a consumer. The paper goes on to analyse the history of censorship classification systems, showing how some aspects—such as the notion of a ‘reasonable adult’—survive over decades without regard for cultural change, while others are quietly dropped when they become embarrassing. The paper concludes that, since cultural norms change over time and differ from one nation to the next, and that since they evolve as a result of disagreement and debate, the best policy for government is not to ‘protect’ citizens as if they’re all vulnerable and uninformed children, but to protect the spirit of Karl Popper’s ‘open society’, where people learn to be independent and to choose for themselves: a prospect that seems as alien to the minister responsible for the legislation, Senator Conroy, as it appeared distant to Popper in 1945.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian journal of communication
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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