Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Censorship is just wrong (again)

I'm not sure I'll be able to express my opinion or reasons any more eloquently than last time but I'll have a try in light of the recent mess over a Wikipedia article containing an album cover featuring "the image of a naked prepubescent girl whose genitals are covered only by what appears to be a cracked camera lens".

This has been covered extensively over at The Register where they have an article on the latest update which is that the IWF have reversed their ban of of the Wikipedia article.

The reason that this caused such an uproar was that an entire article on Wikipedia was added to the IWF's blacklist (apparently for technical reasons they only block the entire article not just the image - hmm, you'd think a URL-based filter would be fine with such granularity). However Amazon and many others weren't affected even though they displayed the same image because they carried the album for sale.

In fact the album itself, even with it's admittedly controversial cover, is, apparently available for sale and it is not illegal (well, it might be given the crazy new laws but no-one has been prosecuted as yet for owning it as far as I know).

First off, I think there has to be some level of common sense to take into account 'intent'. The picture in question is in a sense 'artistic' and was not produced for the purposes of titilation or sexual turn on. Just because an image, subjectively, may look sexual, obscene or disturbing doesn't mean it was intended for the perverts and paedophiles.

Secondly, this image, and I guess many others were produced perfectly legally, mainly in this case because it came before any of the recent legislation but also, from a common sense point of view that the subject concerned was, apparently, the artists relation and was happy to pose and, according to reports, now has no regrets about doing so.

I think that, if you are doing something illegal in order to obtain an image then you stop that act, not the image itself. If the image was produced in a legal way that, however distastful it may be I don't think anyone has the right to censor it - it would probably be prudent for any publisher to indicate the nature of such content so people can steer clear of it but that's it.

I know this is a difficult idea to accept and I'm sure there are images that I would find pretty horrific and not want around but the problem with censorship is where you draw the line and it's very easy for your personal line to rule out alot of content that other people are fine with, e.g. I don't watch horror films, they scare me, and a great many images in them I find totally horrific, distasteful and frankly scarey.

In fact I watched (against my better judgement) the film The Last King of Scotland and there are some scenes in there of horrific mutilation that really did scare me. Others probably don't find these too distressing and I'm pretty sure that the director and film critics would, rightly, argue that they are essential to the film and the points it is trying to get across.

The recently discussed legislation concerning extreme porn images does make some allowances for film and art but tries to close those percieved loop-holes by making it an offence to isolate particular clips from a movie.

As many have pointed out censoring the internet is technically impossible due to the scale of the problem. I would argue that time and money would be better spent on preventing illegal activities that generate obscene content than supporting organisations, and government departments, that try and enforce restrictions after the fact.

Update: As a side note, a friend of mine mentioned that she was no longer able to see my blog in school. Previously she had taken the odd peek at lunchtimes to catch up on things but since I mentioned certain topics (I think it was probably the CAAN and extreme porn legislation) she has been unable to see it, yet is not preventing from reading other blogs on the same server. A blanket ban on blogs I can sort of understand but filtering seems more sinister - particularly when I've only written about the subject and not posted any content that is offensive or illegal.

And that's the really scarey thing about censorship: preventing discussion of a topic.

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