Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Censorship And The Demise Of Personal Liberty

For some time, religious fundamentalist groups in SA have been campaigning to ban various things in this country. A few months ago, a massive crowd - all of 18 people - picketed outside the Sexpo in Cape Town, demanding a return to "traditional" and "family values" and the banning of pornography - much to the amusement of the 20 odd thousand people drawn to the sexpo by their very negative press, which unintentionally turned out to be very positive for the sexpo instead. Such groups have held numerous protests and mounted email campaigns against "soft-porn" on E-TV, "blasphemy" in student "rag" magazines and of course, marches against abortion. And of course, who can forget the thousands who marched in South Africa some years ago to oppose marriage equality - because people falling in love and getting married is just way too bad for "the family", and will cause our fragile civilization to collapse?

Add to that the announcement on the radio I heard a few days ago where a government minister announced an initiative to table a bill in Parliament, which would enforce a blanket ban on all pornography in public media. This announcement can be seen on the Home Affairs website: http://www.home-affairs.gov.za I am sure in retrospect, he meant wet blanket.

"“South Africa should explore an outright ban on pornography in the public media as is the practice in countries such as China and India.” To this extent, the Deputy Minister will approach the Law Reform Commission with a view to requesting them to investigate and advice on the possibility of such a move. "The increase of access to technology and mobile internet, with all its benefits, also poses risks such as creation and distribution of child pornography. We need to be proactive in protecting children against this heinous crime."

Ahem.

After an absence of just fifteen years or so, it seems that censorship is about to make a comeback in South Africa. I find it amazing that I have heard no further comment on this folly - not even from opposition parties who normally seize every available opportunity to pounce on the ANC government. Pounce away, fellas. No? Why not?

The excuse they use here is "child pornography" on the internet - but passing such a law will open the way to banning everything they don't want people to have access to - which could from my viewpoint include gay activism and information sites. Now I don't like porn myself - but the new law they are suggesting will allow the government to interfere in citizens own private and personal lives. And that is not an ideal situation, is it? And if politicians in any of the opposition parties are unable to see this - or even notice it - then perhaps it really is time to pack that rucksack and catch the last plane out of South Africa?

Did you know that in some countries in Africa - Uganda, to name but one - it is a criminal offence for women to wear skirts that are shorter than knee-length? In another, a female journalist narrowly escaped a sentence of flogging for daring to wear trousers. Just yesterday I read some newspaper article where female MP's in SA were being criticized for not dressing like 70-year-olds and covered up from head to toe. Apparently they would like to make it a "regulation" ie "law" as well. I can understand the concept of business atire and dress codes, and even mutton dressed as lamb - but honey, this is a country where even the children wear school uniforms, a consequence of the mindset which prepared the children of Apartheid to wear uniform even after leaving school... a legacy which I found disturbing then, as much as I do now. Boys were militarized, inspected, drilled, bred for military service - and the girls to be submissive future incubators. It didn't always take, obviously *wink* nor did conscription into the army "make a man" out of many of us - but it certainly made some of us into bitches. But quirky school experiences and feminism aside, let's look at this matter about banning porn in public media.

Okay, so the internet is a very bad thing and can be used to peddle child porn. And what about newspapers and magazines? Why not ban the sale of porn mags and cancel the back page of the Sunday Times? While we're at it, let's ban sexologists from speaking about sexual matters on radio shows and cancel their advice columns in "family" newspapers. What if a child should see it? Let's just print letters and articles condemning "deviant" behavior and none of this liberal nonsense. And since we're punting a blanket ban on all porn, why not make it a punishable offence, just like being in the possession of pirate videos and music? Let's close all the sex shops too. And no more gay pride parades because that is a display of "immoral", "indecent" and "pornographic" behavior in public. What about TV, why not censor that as well? No more kissing, unless it's suitable for "family" viewing - and none of that gay kissing and stuff - that's pushing the "gay agenda" - they are "teaching our sons how to kiss men" - and after all, we "know" they are "after our children" anyway, so let's just inform people about that, and push for laws to outlaw homosexuality as well...

Scary how this conservative mindset just gets to work, isn't it?

Child porn is being used as the excuse to make a blanket ban on all pornography. While I don't like porn myself, I think it takes a special lack of better things to do, to waste time watching that stuff, I object far more to a nanny-state which would try to prevent me from liking it in future, should I wish to do so, however unlikely that may be. I also have to add that just because I don't like porn doesn't mean that I HAVE TO look at it. Nobody is "ramming it down my throat" as it were (at least, not like religion - which IS) and I certainly do not see any on TV, not even on DSTV. Nor does a kiss constitute "pornography" - least of all just because those kissing being of the same gender. The people complaining about a gay kiss on the soapie "Generations" only reveal through their arguments how desperately they are in need of an education - let alone an education about gay people. Almost 16000 people up in arms over a gay kiss on TV - and using terms like "unnatural", "sick", "immoral" etc, etc. Regardless, this "initiative" is an infringement on individual liberty.

All this excitement about pornography leaves me with two questions;

1) If they are anti child-porn (aren't we all?) why doesn't the government just take steps to catch the folks responsible instead of making it everybody else's problem? Or is this an admission that they are too incompetent to do so? I mean, the government can't even manage ESKOM or the country's electricity supply, or balance the books of the SABC - both parastatal organizations, so how dare we expect them to catch criminals and keep us safe in our own homes?

2) This minister says he wants to ban ALL pornography in media including the web, which means blocking IP addresses, and let's call it "undesirable content". Do you think they will stop at porn sites, or will they use this move to pass a censorship law and then use this law as a precedent to block whatever else they like in future, including gay advocacy sites or material and any other free speech sites which may for example criticize the government?

This means that they will decide to block my access to particular websites. They will decide for me what I should see and what not. And since I pay for my internet service, I am a full-grown adult and can watch horror movies such as the Saw 3, if I want to see something on the internet then I WANT TO SEE SOMETHING ON THE INTERNET. And barring down lines, offline servers or routers then I should be able to see it. It's my right, after all, I'm paying for it, aren't I? I also find it ironic that people can see movies which are bloody and gory and considered dangerous for young minds - but loving scenes on TV and sexual activity - call it porn - where nobody is killed or dismembered, is up for censorship.

"No little Johnny, don't watch "Generations", that's bad - it will corrupt your morality and teach you how to kiss other boys - rather watch a good war movie with lots of blood and guts (which will teach you how to get along with other people)."

The re-introduction of censorship. This is worrying indeed, and will set a dangerous precedent which will allow the government to interfere in the private lives of citizens of SA.

And of course one has to wonder where this "initiative" comes from. Is it pure coincidence that the ANC government has been shuffling closer to the religious fundamentalists since the Election of April? Just a few weeks ago JZ appeared in a photo in a paper with a group of ministers including Ray Mc Cauley of Rhema at a meeting in which church leaders established a council to answer President Jacob Zuma's call for the religious community to partner with government in "cleaning up society".

We all know the fundie groups in SA have been targeting everything they term "religious issues", from divorce and abortion to pornography - and gay rights. Would such a clampdown on personal freedoms - don't kid yourself, that is exactly what this means - be a precursor of things to come? Block and ban pornography today, criminalize homosexuality tomorrow? For us as the pin community we need to keep this in mind. Is this where this move comes from?

Fundie groups in SA make the claim that pornography (and in general anything sexual outside of marriage and in the bedroom) is a major cause of rape and the abuse of women and children, leading to the decay of society and the collapse of the almighty "family". Of course, with them, everything is about children, and the irony is that they like to claim gay people are pedophiles and obsessed with their kids. Hmm.

Pornography on the internet causes rape?

Considering the demographic that gets convicted of rape in SA - predominantly the low-income group - I find it odd that all these lower income group rapists manage to have access to pornography on the internet. Don't you? I also find it odd that rape and other forms of abuse can be blamed on pornography, and not the perpertrator of the crime - who acted out of his own free will to commit a violent act against another person. In the same way there is the same old argument in terms of gun-control - guns don't kill people - people do. Of course, we all know the story by now - while in court the defence is made that the victim said "no" while meaning "yes" and the crime is blamed on the way the victim was dressed and her sexual history, which of course is made public knowledge. This cannot seriously be entertained in a civilized society. Rape is the fault of the perpetrator, a victim is still a victim, regardless of their history, or what they were wearing - full stop.

This desire to move closer to censorship is nothing less than a step closer to having more control over the lives of the public, controlling their personal choices and curtailing their freedoms to disagree with the state and what the state wants its people to be. And if the government and fundamentalists move closer together, then it gives fundamentalist groups influence in these matters. Fundamentalists not only want their religious "world view" built into everything from law to TV programming, in order to be "equal to everyone else" of course, but they also want everything which they don't like to be removed, excluded and banned from the same general arenas. In short, their vision of "equality" is being the ones running the show.

Is it because the authorities are far too incompetent to catch child pornographers, that they now make it our problem as the public? They have decided to use this as a convenient excuse to reintroduce media censorship so that they can block internet access to not only child porn sites - but all porn sites - along with ANYTHING ELSE they may deem "unfit" for adult citizens of SA to see. Welcome back to the nanny state of the old regime - welcome to Net-nanny State 2.0.

There are elements in government who would do this, and claim that it is "for our benefit", just as a curfew is "for your protection".

I haven't seen any response to this matter in the media yet, none - not even privately - and wonder if political parties are even aware of it, or if they simply agree with it and don't find it worth bothering to comment. Combined with the clear government control of the SABC as a state mouthpiece, this is most worrying indeed as it indicates the way of the future.

I may be an Orwell fan - and I do appreciate seeing parallels between his worlds of Animal Farm and 1984 - but that does not mean I like "Big Brother" enough to want to actually live there.

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