Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing: Canadian Ban Madness

Mark Knopfler and Elton John

Most people will have heard Dire Straits’ song Money For Nothing many times. Some people hate it, but most will enjoy humming or singing along. For Canadians, their singing habits will need to change as the song has been banned from being played on radio because the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has decided the lyrics are an issue. These lyrics in particular:

The little faggot with the earring and the make-up
Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire

The complaint (the first one known since the song’s 1984 release) was lodged by a CHOZ-FM listener:

A song was aired, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, and included the word “faggot” a total of three times. I am aware of other versions of the song, in which the word was replaced with another, and yet OZ FM chose to play and not censor this particular version that I am complaining about.

I find this extremely offensive as a member of the LGBT community and feel that there is absolutely no valid reason for such discriminatory marks to be played on-air.

The response from the station was pretty detailed and included an outright apology whilst maintaining the right to play the song:

We understand the concerns you have raised regarding this particular selection and do apologize for any undue stress caused to you as a listener by the lyrical content of this selection, but based on the above reasoning, we have operated with the understanding that in this specific case, no editing of the material is warranted.

The listener, unhappy with the radio station’s response, wrote to the CBSC (you can read it all here):

In the letter, [OZ FM’s Senior Vice President] lists a number of reasons in an attempt to justify his stations airing the uncensored version of the song. One of the reasons given was the awards and acclaim that the original version of the song has received. These include 1986 Grammy for Record of the Year and 1986 American Music Award for Record of the Year. This is comparable to the achievements of Kanye West’s 2005 song “Gold Digger” which received 9 Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year, and is certified triple platinum. This song contains another discriminatory slur, not directed towards sexual orientation, but towards race. When played on OZ FM, this slur is censored despite the song’s achievements. I fail to see a difference between the two situations.

The CBSC then undertook a formal process and decided the song can’t be played on air in its unedited form. There’s some fascinating reading in the decision on the origins and usage of the words fag and faggot, then a final adjudication:

Still, the Panel concludes that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so. The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. In addition to the terms already so categorized by previous CBSC Panels, there are undoubtedly other racial epithets (not yet the subject of CBSC Panel decisions) that would likely fall into the category of words that are inherently problematic. In any event, the Atlantic Regional Panel concludes that the use of the word “faggot” in the song “Money for Nothing” was unacceptable for broadcast and that, by broadcasting an unedited version of the song, CHOZ-FM breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2, 7 and 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code. The Panel notes parenthetically that the song would not otherwise fall afoul of any of the foregoing broadcast standards if suitably edited.

And that is that. I can understand the concern over the use of the word in a song produced in 2011. But in a song coming up to thirty years old that contains a lyric I believe Mark Knopfler at least partially overheard and that Elton John is happy to sing? There’s been a recent announcement of the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without the word nigger. Far be it for me to argue that Dire Straits were the Mark Twain of the rock world (although they were at least a Bronte sister in calibre to me), but the issue is similar: where do you draw the line?

I’d love your thoughts on this. Not just on whether you think the decision is right or wrong, but how do you see this working in the future? Is it possible to develop standards that protect older works whilst ensuring offence is minimised?

[via Digital Journal]

China’s virtual currency regulation and Conroy’s filter

I had the pleasure of having a chat to Radio Australia’s Ryan Egan for the 20th episode of the Tech Stream podcast. We spoke in some detail about the Chinese Government’s ban on using virtual currencies to purchase real world goods, as well as the recent flare-up in concerns around the impact of the Federal Government’s internet filtering legislation on virtual worlds.

You can listen to the edited interview here (the full version is here), plus there’s some great previous features on augmented reality and more.

I also wrote a piece for Crikey on the net filtering issue, which you can read here.

Net filtering and virtual worlds: reactions

After last night’s story on the Australian Government’s internet content filtering legislation and its potential impact on virtual worlds, the response has been astounding. Today has seen the largest ever traffic on The Metaverse Journal. Like any issue, there are a few camps of thought:

1. Those who have significant concerns that environments like Second Life will end up being banned.

2. Those who have significant concerns, but cannot believe the Australian government would be so misguided as to oversee such a ban.

3. Those who believe the whole idea is hype and/or scaremongering and that the Federal Government will not take such a scattergun approach.

4. Those who support the proposed legislation.


A resident of Australia sim in Second Life unhappy with proposed net filtering plan

I tend to fall in the second camp, because there are innumerable examples of governments making policy that has unintended consequences for individuals not intended to be targeted by a new law. In fact, most legislation does that, it’s just that this proposition particularly stands out for its gaps in logic and potential to harm some really good work going on within Australia.

There’s certainly a chance that the final legislation, if passed at all, will have taken into account the intricacies of virtual worlds. I’m not holding my breath on that though, unless there’s some concerted efforts by Australians on the issue. Telstra and the ABC have plenty to lose and it’s both those organisations that could make a difference in sanity checking the final legislation. The hundreds of thousands of virtual environment consumers in Australia also have a large voice, if there’s a timely response in the event a ban does seem embedded in the legislation.

There’s plenty of time for these issues to be teased out – determining the Minister’s willingness to do so is the biggest unknown. We’ve contacted Senator Conroy’s office but unsurprisingly there’s been no response. What are your thought? Is it all a storm in a teacup, a call to action or a big yawn?

An open letter on virtual worlds for Senator Conroy

Today’s coverage by Asher Moses in Fairfax newspapers on the latest saga with content filtering in Australia, alludes to virtual environments such as Second Life being added to the list of content not suitable for viewing in Australia. Essentially, the issue is that online ‘games’ like World of Warcraft and Second Life have not received an Classification rating and therefore under the proposed content filtering would be blocked.


The government funded ABC island: collateral damage through bad policy?

It’s difficult to know where to begin to pick the flaws in the logic of the approach, but I thought it may be worth writing an open letter / tutorial to the obviously misinformed Minister in question, Senator Conroy:

1. Virtual worlds do indeed contain adult content such as sex of pretty much any type, simulated drug use and plenty of violence. That said, just like going to the R-rated shop located in most suburbs, in environments like Second Life you can’t partake of the goods unless you’ve provided proof of age. So Senator, are you going to mandate the Australian Federal Police to ensure every ‘bricks and mortar’ adult store customer has to go through a government check before entering? Will you also be closing down other social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as they too are not rated and also contain graphic content?

2. Second Life, OpenSim grids and gaming worlds like World of Warcraft are three examples of environments that have highly valuable and empirically demonstrable educational benefits. Just talk to the dozens of Australian educators who have undertaken postgraduate research in the area. Can you explain what alternative means of immediate support the Rudd government will be providing to those people who utilise such environments for immediate health support around issues as diverse as mental health, physical disabilities and chronic disease support?

3. Given a range of virtual environments are used for the purposes of expressing free speech or engaging in activism in a much more visual way, does the Australian Labor party commit to not using emergent technologies for political purposes? Why should Gaza protesters not be able to get their message out via Second Life to Australians whilst the ALP spams YouTube with Kevin Rudd informercials?

4.On the child protection thing. Any normal person doesn’t want their kids exposed to undesirable influences – it’s called parenting. If parents cannot be trusted to screen virtual world content, then is the government also committing to a full ban on R-rated magazines in newsagents, a blanket ban on all legal drug consumption in public and zero tolerance on swearing or violence. And if so, how will this be funded and implemented?

5. Can the Rudd government outline how Australians will maintain their competitive advantage in a global economy where virtual worlds are increasingly adopted as a means of communication? Will books be distributed with vetted pictures of said technologies and will this be enough to make our children competitive?

6. This to me is the most important question of all: have you, Senator Conroy, received any substantive briefing on the opportunities virtual worlds provide for educators, health professionals and businesses? I don’t mean Steve Fielding showing you a picture of two avatars going at it in Second Life. I mean a real briefing covering demographics, trends, research and evidence-based success stories. I can point you in the direction of half a dozen great people locally off the top of my head. Hell, I’ll come too to report on your newfound open-mindedness. I promise I’ll behave.

Of course, Senator Conroy is no more likely to read the above open letter than he is to request the substantive briefing mentioned. To be fair, no definitive statement has been made by the government on virtual worlds but the signs certainly aren’t encouraging. Like the wider issues with content filtering, the baby looks like being thrown out with the bathwater, and we won’t know it until it’s too late. If this does come to pass, Australia will be up there with North Korea in developing its population to be tech-savvy competitors in a global economy. Now THAT’s an education revolution.

Postscript: this afternoon I spent some time discussing the issue with Tateru Nino (who’s written on the issue here and here) and she made a really good point: by creating its adult-only continent in Second life, has Linden Lab forced the hand of ACMA to provide a rating on Second Life’s content. Having everything conglomerated in one place makes a rating easier. The trouble is, under the proposed regime it could also spell the end of Second Life access for Australians, or at least some significantly pared down access to PG-areas only.

Will Internet censorship soon include Virtual World censorship?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no direct relationship between Australian and American laws. Australians are not afforded all the protections that the American people have access to by law, although in some circumstances Australian society works as though those protections existed. Americans are protected from governmental censorship by the First Amendment to their Constitution. Even though Australian law does not guarantee that governmental censorship will not occur, many Australians assume that we have that protection, and for the most part, this has been borne out in practice, if not in law. Here is a list of rights that are protected by law in Australia.

Stephen Conroy would like to see both law and enforcement of law be enacted with regards to “Internet” censorship.

Senator Conroy is a Catholic, and socially conservative. It is likely  that his wishes will coincide with a minority of users of the Internet, both because the way in which the law is to be enacted is unadvisable, and due to a generalised belief in the right of all Australians to free speech, misplaced or not, especially as regards material available across the Internet.

It is not yet clear from the Senator’s statements who will be in charge of deciding the parameters surrounding the law: what material will and will not be allowed to be transmitted across the Internet, and whether “the Internet” in its entirety will be censored, or whether they are referring only to web pages available over the Internet.

According the the Wikipedia entry concerning Internet censorship, Australia is in the OpenNet Initiative (ONI)’s nominal category as of 2008; content classified “RC” or “X18+” may not be hosted within Australia, and content from outside Australia may be blacklisted.

The filtering aspect is of great concern.

  • The blacklist will not be made available for public consumption.
  • Filtering technology is of very little practical use at this point. A blacklist of every site containing banned or age-limited content would need to be kept.
  • Current filtering boxes slow all Internet traffic, on average, by 30%.
  • The government has declared it will not let internet users opt out of the proposed national internet filter. Source.
  • Finally, this one’s a real doozy – a private company will have access to a record of all traffic passing through the filtering boxes that they provide: essentially, all the Internet traffic in Australia. Interestingly, the government will not necessarily have access to that information.

There does not yet appear to be any information regarding restrictions on content provided by services other than the Web. One wonders how services such as some of the virtual environments might be restricted – except for cutting off access entirely. Banned content from virtual worlds such as Second Life cannot be separated from allowable content by a third party. Perhaps, as with the legislation in Germany and Britain, it will become the responsibility of the individual to keep child pornography and other banned content off their screens; this is the case for all online and print media in these countries. More likely, the Australian legislation will expand to encompass virtual worlds in some way, probably circumventing the whole issue by cutting off access to such worlds altogether. Much as it would be preferable to see better education of our youth regarding these topics, in preparation for becoming responsible, Internet-using adults, it seems more likely that the government will choose to to do the work for us, much as the Chinese government does for its people.

Censorship of the Web has already arrived; how far behind can the censorship of other services be? How disruptive could the censorship of virtual worlds be?

Who’s your Daddy?

Mark Kirk

US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would like to be your parent. At least, he would like to act as though he was your parent.

Starting back in May 2008, Kirk has been singling out Second Life for special attention: he would like legislation to be introduced that prevents children from accessing Second Life– both the Teen Grid and the Main Grid (he makes no distinction), through public libraries and in schools.

On the surface, it sounds alright. We all want to protect the kiddies, right? Who is going to say an ill word against legislation that looks like it is designed to protect our children? But then you have to wonder: why should teenagers be excluded from a place designed especially for them? How will adults who want to access Second Life through libraries and schools do so?

There is no easy, cost-effective way to restrict access to content in public libraries and schools. Unless the Congressman wants to spend many more of the limited dollars already available to libraries and schools on solutions that would allow some people to access Second Life but not others, then Second Life would effectively not be available to anyone at these venues.

Legislation banning access for kids is not considered to be censorship – law that acts in place of parental control is often seen as advantageous.

Legislation that also functionally causes a service to be banned for adults is a bit stickier. It may not strictly constitute censorship, as the law would not state that adults are banned. However, functionally, censorship would be the end result.

Does it depend on the end result, or on the original intent, as to whether this is in fact a case of censorship?

For those who are not US citizens, here are the words of the First Amendment (1791):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This is the fundamental piece of law protecting US citizens from censorship. Formally, censorship is prior restraint of communication based on content and enforced by law.  Censorship by the government is broadly unconstitutional.

What Kirk seems to be trying to achieve, intentionally or unintentionally, is an end-run around the constitution. There’s precedent for the State acting in loco parentis, but this sort of legislative restriction barring adults would never fly. Because it’s targeted at kids, and catches adults as collateral damage (something Kirk must have considered), it could squeak through to the detriment of everyone.

On another tack is this related idea, which to some extent makes the legislation pointless:

Thinking members of Congress, teachers and librarians have said that website filtering in the schools and libraries won’t protect kids because they aren’t finding predators in schools and libraries, but from their home computers that they surf alone in their rooms because they have nothing to do after school as many after school activities have been cut.

Perhaps a more useful way to spend Congress’ time and funds is:

  • To put more effort into providing alternative activities for children after school

and, maybe even more importantly

  • To put more effort into educating children about the use of services provided over the Internet.

An educated child is more likely to be self-monitoring. A restricted child is more likely to see excitement, danger and really wild things in those services that have been restricted.

So, what do you think? Is this legislation “in loco parentis”? Or just plain loco?


Australian politics and virtual worlds – no momentum

It’s coming up to a year since the change of Federal government in Australia. In Second Life, there was an election night party.

At the time there was lots of excited talk about the ALP’s broadband policy and the promise it may bring – there is progress on that front but it’s fraught with problems. Then there’s the internet censorship issue bubbling along. All in all, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy hasn’t shone in his role to date. There’s a real perception that we’ve got a government with 20th Century views on some distinctly 21st Century challenges.

In the year since that Second Life election party, there’s been zero interest by either political party in virtual worlds. There’s certainly been significant forays by both sides into social networking via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The US presidential primaries this year saw Second Life play a role, and Barack Obama’s supporters kept that going through the campaign itself. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have obvously been watching the US Democrats’ online campaigning efforts, but there’s no inkling of a virtual world foray at this stage.

We’ve previously queried our pollies on their thoughts with no response – it appears that the current Minister is no more cognisant of the opportunities and challenges than his predecessor.

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