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Australia is already a world leader in protecting kids from pornography

By David Flint - posted Monday, 13 January 2003

What a pity there isn't a magic wand that we could wave over the Internet to rid it of pornography. We could be sure then that nobody, especially children, would be able to see it. This includes, of course, the particularly revolting material that investigating officers for the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) refer to the police.

Instead of a magic wand, it is necessary to rely on a raft of measures against undesirable Internet content. These include co-regulatory codes, officially approved software filters, a centre to receive complaints about content, various sanctions against the providers of prohibited content, and of course, education - of parents as well as children - about Internet content and use.

The ABA deals with all complaints about offensive Internet content. And it has the power to order that offending sites be taken down, or if overseas, ensuring - in such a way that the offenders are not forewarned - that foreign police can prosecute them.


The weakest link in this chain is undoubtedly the apparent unwillingness, or perhaps inability, of some foreign governments to enforce their own criminal law - or alternatively, to implement what probably ought to be their criminal law.

A report has just been released by the Australia Institute that relies heavily on a telephone poll of a relatively small sample of Australian youths. The report found that a large percentage have accessed pornographic sites, particularly boys. The authors fear the results may understate the problem (although it could just as easily be overstated, especially among young male Internet users). In any event, they are right to bring this trend to our attention. There are some sites which no one - especially not children - should be allowed to see. There are others which only adults ought to be able to access.

Given that Australia acting alone cannot force any foreign police force to do its job, is there something more that could be done? The Australia Institute thinks so. But in proposing a solution, the Institute makes the gratuitous and inaccurate observation that Australia's current form of co-regulation is virtually useless. They seem not to realise at all how difficult it was to get even to this point, and that Australia is in fact a pioneer in dealing with this problem.

There is also the entirely unsupported suggestion in the report that the ABA is more interested in promoting the Internet than in protecting children. This is not only untrue: it is offensive. The ABA's principal concern is the protection of children, which was clearly the intention of Parliament in giving responsibility for Internet content regulation to the ABA.

The ABA is engaged with organisations, both in Australia and overseas, to protect children. It works through INHOPE, an international network of hotlines that deals primarily with reports about child pornography available on the Internet. This network of 17 accredited hotlines links 15 different countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Some INHOPE hotlines are government based, like the ABA; others such as the Internet Watch Foundation (UK) are industry initiatives; while there are also community based and privately sponsored hotlines like Cybertipline (USA). In a six-month period, INHOPE investigated approximately35,000 reports of child pornography online.

Through consultation with both the industry and the public, the ABA has developed and registered codes of practice to protect the public interest. It reports on the effectiveness of filters and publishes these on its website, ensuring that approved filters are made available at cost.


The ABA has also developed a website,, that provides information for families to help ensure their children's Internet use is safe and enjoyable. A complementary range of brochures, available online and in hard copy, includes general Internet safety tips, advice on choosing a filter, tips for dealing with spam, and tips for safe use of online chat applications. The site features a young person's guide to using the Internet, encouraging children to have fun and explore 'cool' sites, but asking them to remember to be "cybersmart". This would include, for instance, telling a parent or another trusted adult if they encounter "upsetting language, nasty pictures or something scary" on the Internet. The site also features important tips for parents on safe ways to enjoy the best of the Internet, while protecting children from the worst. Teachers can use the lesson plan, online teaching resources and homework tips to help kids be cybersmart.

The ABA has also entered into formal relationships with federal and state police to ensure the speedy transmission of sensitive information on foreign sites so that, through Interpol and other avenues, local authorities can act.

Above all, the ABA warns against complacency, which can come through too much reliance on software filters - an imperfect tool - and it emphasises the continuing need for parental involvement and supervision of young Internet users.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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