Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Analogy Between TV and the Internet

In the relatively small pro-censorship lobby much is made of the analogy between TV and the Internet. "Society accepts censorship of TV programming", so the argument goes, "so why should it not also accept censorship of the Internet?"

And with that, they turn to their supporters in audience give them a high-five, and return to grin at their opponents. "Respond to that one, if you dare".

So let's look this analogy more carefully. If the Government were to censor TV as it intends to censor the Internet, it would do this:

  • Install a device in everyone's home that could turn the TV off on the whim of a faceless Government bureaucrat
  • Monitor TV broadcasts and, if someone decides that something worse than naughty is being aired, switch off everyone's TV set.
  • Leave the source TV stations and program producers unobstructed by effective law enforcement action, except for the occasional token raid.

Not only would this mechanism be incredibly wasteful, it directs the wrath of a faceless Government bureaucracy against the wrong target - the innocent family at home watching TV and leaves the source of the filth completely unscathed.

All socially acceptable censorship mechanisms have worked by censoring at the source. That's why the possession of porn is not illegal, but the sale of it can be. The deep conceptual flaw with the mandatory ISP filtering proposal is that it attempts to censor at the receiver.

History has shown that all such mechanisms are futile and inspire a great deal of resistance. The same will be true of this proposal.


Geordie Guy said...

Jon you are of course spot-on here, I wonder if you saw the spot on Seven's "Sunrise!" where they occasionally do pop-news in the morning with a couple of guests on. One of them was discussing Clean Feed with the editor of Marie Claire, Jackie Frank, and John Magos from Sky News. David Koch went bananas about a so-called "bringing the Internet into line with the rest of the media" and Jackie soundly put him back in his place telling her experiences of trying to publish a magazine with a government censor blacking out sections of it with a marker. Great article pointing out some of the differences.

Dan Buzzard said...

TV is not really free speech. It is one commercial entity make money from one-way communication.

With the internet everyone contributes. Censoring the internet is closer to the post office opening every bit of mail and using white-out to remove any sentences or comments they don't think you should be making.

It can also be compared to us all having wearable microphones, and the government stopping you in the middle of any conversation they don't think you should have.

Syd Walker said...


Interesting article Jon. I think this analogy of Clive Hamilton's is close to the heart of his/the Government case. He repeats it incessantly. it's clearly giving him traction.

I wrote a short article myself today about this - see Why The Web is NOT Like TV.

Like Georgie, I think the mail service is the closest analogy - although it was interesting to see you take a quite different approach. But whichever way we look at the TV=Internet argument, it's a dangerous fallacy.