In an unprecedented attack on press freedom in Australia, 23 journalists and 13 media outlets have been hit with charges relating to the child sexual abuse trial of Catholic cardinal George Pell. The accused include Australia's two biggest
newspaper companies, Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News and the former Fairfax group now owned by broadcaster Nine, as well as leading newspaper editors and reporters.
The media and reporters are accused of abetting contempt of court by the foreign press and of scandalising the court by breaching a gagging order, despite none of them reporting on the charges involved or mentioning Pell by name. The court had
banned all reporting of the case pending a second trial that was later cancelled.
Some foreign media, including The New York Times and the Washington Post , reported Pell's conviction in December, while local media ran cryptic articles complaining that they were being prevented from reporting a story of major public interest.
Matthew Collins, representing the accused media at the first hearing on the matter today, said such wide-ranging contempt charges had no precedent in Australian legal history. Collins added that a guilty verdict on any of the charges would have a
chilling effect on open justice in Australia. He insisted that the contempt allegations lacked specific examples of how any of the accused news companies or journalists actually breached the gag order when they never mentioned Pell or the crimes
for which he was convicted.
Hellboy is a 2019 USA action Sci-Fi fantasy by Neil Marshall.
Starring Daniel Dae Kim, Milla Jovovich and David Harbour.
Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, Hellboy, caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battles an ancient sorceress bent on revenge.
In the UK the BBFC have passed the 2019 remake of Hellboy as 15 uncut for strong bloody violence, gore, language.
In Ireland the cinema release is 16 rated by IFCO for very strong bloody violence.
In the US the film was MPAA R rated for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language.
The film censors of the Australian Classification Board rated the film as R18+ (18 in UK terms) for High impact violence, blood and gore.
The Australian distributors felt that a lower rating was a possibility, and appealed to the Classification Review Board for an MA15+ (15A in UK terms).
However the Classification Review Board disagreed with the appeal and maintained the original rating of R18+ for High impact violence, blood and gore. The Review Board wrote:
A five-member panel of the Classification Review Board has unanimously determined that the film, Hellboy, is classified R 18+ (Restricted) with the consumer advice High impact violence, blood and gore.
In the Classification Review Board's opinion Hellboy warrants an R 18+ classification because the violence has a high impact. The overall impact of the classifiable elements in the film was high. It is the view of the Classification Review Board
that the fantasy context does not mitigate the cumulative impact of the violence on a more vulnerable audience.
The Australian Government have announced the introduction of a new bill aimed at imposing criminal liability on executives of social media platforms if they fail to remove abhorrent violent content. The hastily drafted legislation could have
serious unintended consequences for human rights in Australia.
The rushed and secretive approach, the lack of proper open, democratic debate, and the placement of far-reaching and unclear regulatory measures on internet speech in the the criminal code are all matters of grave concern for digital rights
groups, including Access Now and Digital Rights Watch.
Poorly designed criminal intermediary liability rules are not the right approach here, which the Government would know if it had taken the time to consult properly. It's simply wrong to assume that an amendment to the criminal code is going to
solve the wider issue of content moderation on the internet, said Digital Rights Watch Chair, Tim Singleton Norton.
In particular, the lack of any public consultation is particularly worrisome as it shows that impacts on human rights were not likely to be considered by the government in drafting the text. Forcing companies to regulate content under threat of
criminal liability is likely to lead to over-removal and censorship as the companies attempt their best to avoid jail-time for their executives or hefty fines on their turnover. Also worryingly, the bill could encourage online companies to
constantly surveil internet users by requiring proactive measures for general content monitoring, a measure that would be a blow to free speech and privacy online. Lucie Krahulcova, Australia Policy Analyst at Access Now, said:
Reforming criminal law in a way that can heavily impact free expression online is unacceptable in a democracy. If Australian officials seek to ram through half-cooked fixes past Parliament without the proper expert advice and public scrutiny,
the result is likely to be a law that undermines human rights. Last year's encryption-breaking powers are a prime example of this
Regulating online speech in a few days is a tremendous mistake. Rather than pushing through reactionary proposals that make for good talking points, the Australian government and members of Parliament should invest in a measured, paced
participatory reflection carefully aimed at achieving their legitimate public policy goals.
The reality here is that there is no easy way to stop people from uploading or sharing links to videos of harmful content. No magic algorithm exists that can distinguish a violent massacre from videos of police brutality. The draft legislation
creates a great deal of uncertainty that can only be dealt with by introducing measures that may harm important documentation of hateful conduct. In the past, measures like these have worked to harm, rather than protect, the interests of
marginalised and vulnerable communities, said Mr. Singleton Norton.
This knee-jerk reaction will not make us safer or address the way that hatred circulates and grows in our society. We need to face up to the cause of this behaviour, and not look for quick fixes and authoritarian approaches to legislating over
it, he concluded.