Communications Minister Wrong Again!

Throughout this entire internet filtering debate, everyone has heard Senator Conroy’s favourite sayings. You know, like “100% accurate”, and “you can’t buy this material on DVD, in bookstores, in newsagents, watch it in cinemas, or see it on television.”

Oh really? What about this:

There’s a few interesting quotes in this article, such as:

In the first episode of Underbelly: The Golden Mile, Kings Cross identity John Ibrahim (played by Firass Dirani) has sex in a school stairwell with former schoolmate Michelle (Rebecca Slade).

While both Dirani and Slade are in their 20s, the show features repeated references by other characters that the character of Ibrahim is under-age.

The term “underage” is interesting. Is the character considered “underage” in terms of consensual sexual activity (16 in Australia)? Or the drinking age (18 in Australia)?

Here’s another:

Professor Gans said the NSW law would apply for the offence of production. Anyone found disseminating or in possession of the episode would also be liable under both states’ laws. ”It would fall within the definition of child pornography, but there is a broad defence of classification,” Professor Gans said.

Underbelly was classified M by Nine’s in-house censors. The defence of classification applies to all works unless they are refused classification.

Interestingly, Underbelly was NOT refused classification, else it wouldn’t have been on, would it? However the interesting quote is the so-called “defence of classification” loophole.

There was no clear definition during the show as to the age of the characters involved, but lets say for example that the characters involved in the sex scene were both fifteen – therefore minors – which by technical definition would make the scene child pornography. Channel Nine classified the show as “M”, and it was not refused that classification. It was broadcast to a massive national audience.

If the characters were “underage”, and the sex scene was shown – (and it was) – shouldn’t it have been refused classification? Then would it have been shown? Under the current laws, it shouldn’t and wouldn’t have been shown.

Channel Nine gave it the “M” rating, and this seemingly was approved. So there is this grey area, where a program is classified, but if the “official censors” miss questionable scenes, and it is approved to keep that rating, if they WERE underage, what is technically child pornography was just shown on television.

All of this is a moot point though, as if the character of John Ibrahim was written into the story with his correct age, he was not underage at all. The story of this third series of Underbelly is clearly quoted at the start of each episode as being set in the period between 1988 and 1999. According to his Wikipedia entry, John Ibrahim was born in 1970, making him eighteen years of age, if the writers have stuck to the basic facts. If there were some kind of legal challenge, Channel Nine would have this to fall back on.

However, clearing away the clutter, it boils down to this. If the producers of a program give that program a certain classification, and Office of Film and Literature Classification Australia misses a scene that might have seen the program refused classification, it can still get to air, and the producers are protected by this “defence of classification” clause.

Ultimately, this means that child pornography CAN be seen on television in Australia – although it is worth noting that the scene in question was certainly not graphic in any way. However, Senator Conroy says that it can’t happen, that “you can’t see child pornography on television” doesn’t he?

I think this Underbelly example is just a storm in a teacup, but clearly there are potential situations where it technically can be seen on television. Another lie or another complete misunderstanding of his portfolio?

EDIT: Follow up post can be found here.