Posted by Colin Jacobs | Censorship | Monday 22 February 2010 9:31 pm

If you’re a politician, and something nasty is brought to your attention, what do you do? The best and sometimes only tool in your toolbox is the one you reach for. The tool is this: to pass a law banning it. Therefore, although it’s always discouraging, a story like this one, is far from unusual or surprising. ”Laws to tackle racism on the Internet are set to be beefed up,” it announces.

“Authorities warn they are often powerless to act against online content, which is responsible for almost one in five racial vilification complaints,” it continues, then:

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has ordered the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct a sweeping review of ”arrangements for dealing with racist material on the internet”.

”While freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights, this is not at the expense of the rights of people, while using the Internet, to be treated with equality, dignity and respect,” Mr McClelland told The Sunday Age.

Certainly, nobody likes hate speech. But these words, by our Attorney-General, are concerning. Firstly, they show a terrible lack of consideration of the complexities of the issue, and secondly, they demote freedom of speech in a significant way.

Banning racist content on the Internet might seem like a good idea on the surface, but you don’t have to dig very deep before the idea becomes problematic. The existing laws throughout the states grapple with some thorny issues. How do you define hate speech? “Kill all Jews” certainly counts, but what about “Liberate Palestine”? Is Holocaust revisionism hate speech? What about an honestly held opinion on the undesirability of immigration from a certain part of the world? Does this inspire “hatred, contempt or severe ridicule” against a group of persons? These ambiguities will become more problematic if a new national law is introduced that applies to every blog on the Internet.

Full story here