One would think, given the current red alert about clerical child abusers, that the safety and innocence of children was pretty well number one priority with the media. But is it?

Not necessarily. When it comes to protecting children from harmful content on the internet it seems there has to be a trade off of interests. Proposals by Australia to filter internet content more thoroughly has brought an outcry from Google, Yahoo and outfits with names like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Centre for Internet Freedom (part of the Progress and Freedom Foundation). Even the US government has signalled its concern that the “free flow of information” and “open societies” may be threatened. And the big bogey is China: this will give China an excuse to persist in censorship for political reasons, some say.

So what is Australia actually planning to do?

The plan, which was announced in December, would require that Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) filter out a range of content, including child sexual abuse, bestiality, sexual violence and detailed instructions on the commission of crimes or drug use. Such material is already subject to take-down notices by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) if it is hosted online in Australia, but the new filtering plan aims to catch objectionable content hosted overseas as well.

The critics say this would catch too much; it is undue censorship; a slippery slope. Oh well, I suppose the authorities who failed to correct abusive clerics in the past were concerned about their freedom too. And not setting a precedent that might be applied in some other area of church life and become a slippery slope of authoritarianism. Too bad about the kids, though.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet