Guest post. David Limbrick on censorship

Censors protect bad ideas from scrutiny.

In these times of creeping government interference and corporate censorship, it’s worth reflecting on the depiction of war in the media.

Of course, there are good reasons why some aspects of wars are censored. We would not want or expect the safety of combatants to be compromised.

But what if it had been somehow possible to livestream the landing at Gallipoli back home in 1915 without the heavy handed booster-ism of the newsreels? What if people at home could have witnessed the slaughter that occurred when young soldiers were ordered to jump out of their trenches and run towards machine guns at The Nek?

You would expect that the terrible tactics would have been shelved rather than transported to the killing grounds of Western Europe. It might have saved thousands of young lives.

There are good reasons why we should be allowed to see terrible things.

It was the news coverage of some of the horrible events in Vietnam that turned public sentiment on that war; photographs from Abu Ghraib that curbed abuse of prisoners in Iraq; footage of the beating of Rodney King that turned attention to police brutality in the United States.

Very recently, we saw a Victorian police officer appearing to strike a handcuffed 15 year-old girl who had been peacefully protesting at a 420 rally here in Melbourne.

These events were and are still disturbing. Nobody wants to see them – but if we are to correct injustice, we need to be able to see injustice. You can’t oppose what you don’t expose. Censorship would only have allowed these things to continue.

Now we hear Facebook is being asked to prevent livestreaming of unpleasant events on their platform. Apart from this being impossible without shutting the whole system down, is it desirable? And who is to judge?

Anyone who wants to see disturbing content, or pretty much anything else they want to see, can find it on the internet. I don’t recommend seeking it out, but you can find video content of people being killed in a range of ways on any number of websites. This kind of material has now been available for years.

ISIS released some of the most abhorrent visual material possible, revealing themselves to be a scourge that needed to be strongly opposed.

It turns out that people are far more resilient and discerning than some would have you believe. Most of us choose not to view abhorrent material, and those who do, are capable of processing this kind of information without being scarred for life. In fact, those of us who see reprehensible things are far more likely to be repelled.

Unfortunately, every time there is a terrible event – as in Christchurch – moral panic ensues. The authoritarians then move in calling for new censorious laws or moves that treat us all like children.

Facebook have reportedly decided to ban people who show support for white nationalism and separatism on their platform.

As a private company, Facebook are entitled to do this – but they have created the classic dilemma of the censor – who decides what is acceptable?

Censorship like this means the public is denied the chance to subject bad ideas to scrutiny. We can’t argue against ideas that we can’t hear or terrible things we can’t see. Pushing bad ideas into the shadows doesn’t remove them from our society and allows them to fester and grow. If our new moral guardians have their way, we will all soon be getting our information from the dark web.

David Limbrick is the Liberal Democrats MP for Victoria’s South East Metropolitan region

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25 Responses to Guest post. David Limbrick on censorship

  1. Peter Greagg

    You make good sense. Thank you for the post.

  2. Tim Neilson

    I agree with the general point, but …

    Very recently, we saw a Victorian police officer appearing to strike a handcuffed 15 year-old girl who had been peacefully protesting at a 420 rally here in Melbourne.

    Care to mortgage your house to bet that the media weren’t presenting a distorted view of that?

    It was the news coverage of some of the horrible events in Vietnam that turned public sentiment on that war;

    Was that meant to be a good thing? I’m old enough to remember “it’s none of our business, we should stay in our own region and leave the Vietnamese to decide for themselves” morphing in a nanosecond into “we’ve got to take in those poor refugees who are fleeing such a brutal hideous regime – after all it’s our region; Darwin is closer to Saigon than to Melbourne!”.
    I don’t have a dogmatic view either way, but the “approved truth” on the issue seems to me to be a bit schizophrenic.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that censorship should be justified, because censorship is the best tool of all for ensuring that media distortion works.

  3. Jim Hutchison

    Jim at Wollombi

    A case of very silly censorship occurred after the Christchurch massacre. The NZ government refused to mention the name of the maniac Australian killer and gave no clue to what was contained in his ‘Manifesto’. Logic and commonsense both suggest that the public of both Australia and NZ ought be accurately informed about the motivation of this demented person so that we are ‘alert and aware’ [to adopt the words of a recent former Prime Minister]. We need to understand his indoctrination for at least two reasons:
    a) to enable citizens to recognise a similar pattern of behaviour amongst any person(s) in our own communities so as to alert relevant authorities to keep an eye on her/him; and
    b) to support those sensible decision makers in our hopelessly inefficient governance system who are doing their best to understand that Australia faces a quite hostile security environment. It is not an environment that requires the expenditure of billions of dollars on submarines which won’t be built on schedule and which can be relied on not to perform as well as hoped, nor is it an environment which requires the expenditure of billions of dollars on war ships and helicopters that can be relied on to not perform as well as expected etc and so on. What it requires is a change of mindset and redirection of effort to understand the process by which our home grown assassin converted himself to ISIS type thinking.

    I have researched the background and read a summary of the manifesto on a US discussion thread. I commend the process to others.

    And who would have imagined that the peace and security of Sri Lanka would been fractured in such horrific fashion by highly educated members of the middle class.

  4. Kurt

    The double standards on censorship are pretty glaring. It is actually a crime to have the video of the shooting on your computer in NZ. Yet how many times have New Zealanders seen footage of the planes flying into the World Trade Center over the past 18 years? One can be shown on continuous loop while the other is illegal. Nowadays when they claim censorship is needed to protect the community you have to ask, which community?

  5. Colonel Crispin Berka

    Unfortunately, every time there is a terrible event – as in Christchurch – moral panic ensues. The authoritarians then move in calling for new censorious laws or moves that treat us all like children.

    Lucky we’ve got an election coming up. Let me review the HoR candidates in Bonner.

    1. Authoritarian palm-greasers.
    2. Authoritarian tree-huggers.
    3. Authoritarian asian-haters
    4. Authoritarian Labor-lite.
    5. Authoritarian egging-targets.
    6. Authoritarian Labor.

    If you don’t like authoritarians, you are totally out of luck in 2019.
    At least Venezuela had a real range of options in 1998.

    So no easy answer based on labels alone. This means I’m going to have to actually read these parties policies to pick which is the least authoritarian. What a pain.

  6. Chris M

    Saw the headline and thought the Cat was going to stop censoring! Not so apparently.

  7. Entropy

    At least that labor-lite did not vote for Turnbull. Apart from that, carry on, Colonel Sir!

  8. Colonel Crispin Berka

    Entropy,
    I guess either you’re in Bonner or you looked him up on the AEC. Anyhow…

    Funny you mention that, because Labor’s pre-election attack material claims the Labor-lite member was one of the ten people who initiated the petition to roll Turnbull.
    Why is Labor advertising the Liberal member’s best qualification for office? 🙂

    To give Labor credit, they have a correct psychological model of the mainstay of the LNP support base, which is Conservatives who value loyalty over and above truth. In theory, disloyalty should be instant game over for a Liberal candidate. But there are still enough deplorables and “delcons” recovering from 2013 who think some creative destruction is okay sometimes and highly stabbable backs should be stabbed, especially if they’ve been doing a fair bit of stabbing themselves. This attack on Vasta fails, although Vasta’s choice of Dutton over ScoMo isn’t complimentary in hindsight.

    If we could get every political candidate to take the Political Compass Quiz and post their results on twitter this would make deciding a fair bit easier.

  9. Iampeter

    As a private company, Facebook are entitled to do this – but they have created the classic dilemma of the censor – who decides what is acceptable?

    Nothing Facebook or any other private enterprise can do will ever be censorship, so there’s no dilemma here to discuss, just typical and total confusion.

    Now if the government was passing regulations to control what content Facebook could or couldn’t host, THEN you would be able to ask this question. Of the government NOT the private enterprise which would be the victim of censorship in that situation.

    But you would still not phrase it this way unless you have no political ideology, since you should know what a government should or should not be doing and why.

    You might ask something like, “why is does a rights protecting government think it can tell private enterprise what content they can or can’t host? That’s a violation of their rights.”

    But you would never accuse Facebook or any other business of censorship.
    That is just politically illiterate.

  10. Nothing Facebook or any other private enterprise can do will ever be censorship, so there’s no dilemma here to discuss, just typical and total confusion.

    You’re assuming that they don’t act as quasi government agents.

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-the-cia-paid-and-threatened-journalists-to-do-its-work

    Famous Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein broke the story in 1977 for Rolling Stone. Bernstein revealed the workings of Operation Mockingbird, in which many journalists – included Pulitzer Prize winners – joined the CIA’s payroll, writing fake stories to disseminate the agency’s agitprop and providing intelligence. Other journalists were threatened and blackmailed into cooperating with Mockingbird, and many were given falsified or fabricated information about their actions in order to engender their support for the CIA’s mission. The program has never been officially discontinued.

    Whilst I don’t like the Daily Beast, Carl Bernstein is someone who “gets shit done” so to speak.

  11. Percy Popinjay

    1. Authoritarian palm-greasers.
    2. Authoritarian tree-huggers.
    3. Authoritarian asian-haters
    4. Authoritarian Labor-lite.
    5. Authoritarian egging-targets.
    6. Authoritarian Labor.

    7. None of the above.

    Don’t forget to take a pen.

  12. Percy Popinjay

    why is does a rights protecting government think it

    FFS, you are a f*cking imbecile.

  13. Habib

    So many falsehoods in one short item. The media showed selective horrible events in Vietnam to boost support for the NVA/VC in western countries, actively aiding and giving comfort to the enemy. No NVA/VC atrocities were reported, despite happening everywhere- the Tet Offensive being a particularly egregious example. Firstly portrayed as a victory to the NLF, it was in fact an utter disaster for them, seeing most units annihilated and their senior cadre eliminated. At no stage were the mass murders of anyone identified as an “enemy of the people”- government employees, teachers, intellectuals etc at Hue and other centres. Instead, the summary execution of a VC terrorist by the chief of police in Saigon became the story- the individual filmed had murdered the entire family of one of the shooter’s close colleagues, including women and children. This and other propaganda on behalf of these communist sosiopaths led to the US and other allies withdrawing troops, then the loathesome democrats cut off aid and supplies, ensuring the people of the south were subject to a brutal, despotic and murderous Marxist regime.

    Rodney King was another episode of agenda-driven selective editing- networks cut the first 20-30 minutes of the exchange, where despite multiple warnings and tasering he would not submit, and resisted arrest, following driving through suburban streets at upwards of 100mph while completely off his face on PCP. I’m starting to question my support for the LDP if their representatives are so gullible and shallow.

  14. Jim Hutchinson:

    And who would have imagined that the peace and security of Sri Lanka would been fractured in such horrific fashion by highly educated members of the middle class.

    You are making the distinction that an educated man is more moral than an uneducated one.
    Looking at the results of our university system, I would say you are drawing a very long bow.

  15. Cumborah Kid

    Winston,
    That is the best and pithiest statement I have read for a long time. Bravo!

  16. Habib

    Also don’t take my spray as support for censorship, it’s anything but. The self-censorship of the meeja, by manipulative and selective editing, completely ignoring and running dead on items that don’t support a selected agenda, and the creation or pure fiction to support same is every bit as bad as state censorship, and possibly worse. This delves into a realm that only the most vile, repressive and demented regimes have previously ventured. The meeja is as much the enemy of freedom now as the state.

  17. Boambee John

    Reading Iampeter’s philosophically purist post above brought two thoughts to mind.

    First, Whitlam’s put down of the ALP left: “Only the impotent are pure”. Iampeter is exceedingly pure!

    Second, I think we need to look again at our terminology.

    On the one side we have the Internationalists aka Cosmopolitans aka Anywheres aka Progressives. On the other side we have the Nationalists, who mix with the Parochials, who mix with the Somewheres, who mix with the Conservatives, who mix with the Libertarians.

    The second group need to clarify their purpose. Excessive claims to ideological purity are not helpful. Some extremists, like Iampeter, need to be ignored, and some groups, like socially conservative workers, need to be embraced. Iampeter is too ideological to accept any collectivism, while most in the second group (think nationalists, as a simple example, accept some collectivism).

    Perhaps we can combine the sensible group under a single label? Traditionalists?

  18. jupes

    But what if it had been somehow possible to livestream the landing at Gallipoli back home in 1915 without the heavy handed booster-ism of the newsreels? What if people at home could have witnessed the slaughter that occurred when young soldiers were ordered to jump out of their trenches and run towards machine guns at The Nek?

    You would expect that the terrible tactics would have been shelved rather than transported to the killing grounds of Western Europe. It might have saved thousands of young lives.

    But then the war would have been lost. The AIF learnt from their mistakes and didn’t need a bunch of journos and civvies to tell them how to operate. That would have been the real disaster.

  19. jupes

    Reading Iampeter’s philosophically purist post above …

    There’s your mistake right there.

  20. Boambee John

    Jupes

    Watching his self imposed impotence has a certain macabre fascination.

  21. cuckoo

    Very recently, we saw a Victorian police officer appearing to strike a handcuffed 15 year-old girl who had been peacefully protesting at a 420 rally here in Melbourne.

    Oh go on, you’re just trying to cheer me up. Like a few months ago when we saw footage of PSOs effecting an arrest on the street in Melbourne. They had to create an exclusion around the area but some girly decided she could just walk through on the principle that ‘I’m a girl so rules don’t apply to me’ and promptly got flattened.

  22. Colonel Crispin Berka

    I guess the reason for making the massacre video illegal is that the video becomes like a radioactive tracer for finding trouble-makers. There is ultimately no reason outside of law enforcement to see the footage other than a sick desire to watch people get shot. (Totally different to the 9/11 impact footage where no person can be seen.) I never bothered to look for this video. We know the massacre happened, and happened in basically the way the media described it, because of the observable end result.
    By making possession of it illegal you send a clear message to the generally good majority that they have no excuse for having it. So anyone who does have it must also hold beliefs which make them more dangerous than the majority. And half-hearted attempts (without using VPNs or other obscurants) to obtain the video can be traced to the requester, which is again much easier if the signal-to-noise ratio is improved by making the video illegal. This performs in automatic fashion the kind of dobbing-in that Limbrick says is warranted.

    The problem is not so much that this particular video was made illegal, but that any technical and legal measures put in place to prohibit this item will eventually be used to prohibit less offensive material for political purposes. We’re not trying to promote snuff videos, we’re trying to protect against “1984”.

    So then three rhetorical questions.
    # Why should the line of illegality be drawn between the massacre video and other depictions of torture and gross depravity, when these differ by degree rather than a qualitative difference?
    # How can a document of text written prior to the massacre be made illegal on the same basis as the first-person video of the massacre occurring, when they represent very different meanings with different emotional impact?
    # If the shooter’s manifesto is to be made illegal for transmitting dangerous ideas, why is possession of a Koran still allowed? Surely both of them are not actually dangerous unless someone is foolish enough to believe all of them, and you can’t legislate against stupidity.

    On reflection I think the video is a poor example to use for an anti-censorship argument. The manifesto supports the argument better.

  23. Colonel:

    I never bothered to look for this video.

    Neither did I until they started threatening us with gaol for having it.
    I now have a copy, and two backups.
    Fuck ’em.

  24. I feel the same way Winston.

    I don’t really want to watch it, but:

    1. No silly conspiracy theories come out.
    2. I decide what is appropriate for myself to watch – the government are MY employees, I am NOT their property.

  25. John A

    As a private company, Facebook are (sic) entitled to do this – but they have created the classic dilemma of the censor – who decides what is acceptable?

    You have left out one important fact. Facebook is ALSO, SIMULTANEOUSLY protecting itself by claiming “common carrier” status so that it cannot be accused of selectivity in its decisions about what to ban. Consequently, it is shielded from all threats of legal accountability for its decisions which go from demonstrating bias, to manifesting inconsistency through applying double standards to exerting insouciant, rank hypocrisy.

    Rabz Doctrine International Scale. Now.

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