Friday, April 22, 2011

The Art of Censorship

Australia has always had a sorry record  of censoring the arts. From literature through to film, Australia's censorship scheme has been accused of being arbitrary and of being subject to political interference in what is meant to be a independent regime. This is despite the fact that the object of the scheme, set out in the classification guidelines, is to:
"...give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:
  1. adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
  2. minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
  3. everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;
  4. the need to take account of community concerns about:
    1. depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and
    2. the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner."
Despite these principles, a new attempt by the conservative elements of the Liberal party and the overly powerful Australian Christian Lobby to control what adults can see, is being mounted through the current inquiry into the Australian Film and Literature Classification Scheme chaired by conservative Christian Sen. Guy Barnett. Submissions to this inquiry have suggested that all art should be subject to classification before public display, and that the defence of "artistic merit" be removed. These submissions imply that this new regime merely "harmonises" the classification of artworks with the scheme that applies to other forms of media. However, this is just a thinly veiled attempt to use the economic disincentive of the requirement to classify artworks as a censorship regime.

The minimum fees applicable under the current regime range from $520 for a publication to $990 for a short film. A review of an adverse finding by the classification board is listed at $8,000. The visual arts, particularly the fine arts, has not been a traditionally high-earning sector for the vast majority of participants and so a financial imposition of this magnitude is likely to bar the display of their works for reasons of financial means rather than artistic merit or even the supposed "protection of minors from material that may harm or disturb them".

Although the proponents of this new regime argue that the classification of artistic works in this way is to prevent artworks being displayed that are grossly offensive, they continue to use the example of Bill Henson's work (described by Liberal Senator Julian McGauran as "paedophilia art") which was classified by the classification board as 'PG'. Regardless of what artistic merit or otherwise is attached to Henson's work, it is obvious from the continued use of this example that the real motive of these senators is to place an unacceptably high financial bar to the display of such work. This is despite the fact that it is unlikely to be classified in such a way that it cannot be displayed. It should be of grave concern that the classification scheme is to be subverted in this manner.

The display of artistic works is an important feature of any society; it adds richness and challenge to the way that we see ourselves. The creation of financial disincentive for artists to display their works is a grave act of subversive censorship. It should concern us all that those who advocate this regime are unable to see that a depiction of nudity is anything other than sexual in nature. This perception of the arts by the ACL and Liberal senators is more a reflection of the prurience of their own perceptions rather than the moral probity of their position.