Daily Archives: April 16, 2009

Graffiti & Censorship

In January 2009, Australian censors banned issue #8 of Dirty Deeds, an Australian graffiti magazine.  I’m unsure who Dirty Deeds are. They might be one are a crew of breakbeat DJs from Melbourne. Dirty Deeds is published by Dirty Deeds Streetwear. (Dirty Deeds is, just in case anyone’s missed it, a title of an AC/DC song). I have not seen any issues of the magazine but early issues of the magazine are still available from various places in Europe online. From online descriptions the magazine is about 100 pages and contains images and reports about Australian graffiti and pieces from Australian writers on tour. If anyone knows anymore about Dirty Deeds or the censorship of its issue#8 please leave a comment.

Censorship of graffiti related material has been increasing, like Mark Ecko’s Atari game “Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure” or the film about graffiti, 70K that the Melbourne Underground Film Festival attempted to show last year. These items are being censored in Australia because they “promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence”. This is a very broad category that could include information on crime prevention or a movie showing an armed robbery etc. It is also far broader than any other countries protection, e.g. the USA where  “…the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”  Per Curiam Opinion, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)

This is the same excuse for censorship that lead to the protracted 1995-1999 persecution of the editors of the LaTrobe University student newspaper, Rabelais (eventually the charges were dropped with no explanation, so calling it a ‘prosecution’ is misdirection). This law is only used against small independent publishers although the law is so broad it could be used against any publisher with any crime content. The government’s application of this law makes it intentions clear; the government wants to use it to justify the persecution of some victims of moral panic.

Censorship is unjust in that it is arbitrary. It is arbitrary in the choice of targets and in the rules that govern censorship. What will be censored it is rarely completely defined but kept vague and subject to opinion of an authority.

When censorship is not arbitrary it does tend to create embarrassing moments for the authorities when they quickly back down in the face of unimpeachable examples. Creating rules for censorship is not a simple as stating no images of nipples, public hair, torture, bestiality or naked children. Under the Jacaranda Tree has a story about a Chinese blogger who fought the censorship of his Renaissance nudes. The story is similar to an early 2008 controversy London Underground censoring another image of a Renaissance nude. Renaissance nudes are an unimpeachable example that any censorship rules, guidelines or legislation must avoid censoring to appear reasonable and sensible.

One strategy to avoid such ridicule is for censorship to be arbitrary. In Australia censorship is a discretionary act instigated by a complaint. For example, there have been nude photographs exhibited in public at Platform that have been censored and others that have not because censorship by the City of Melbourne is based on complaints.

Censorship continues to be an ugly, arbitrary and unjust feature of Australian law. And I am sick of it.


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