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Australia placed on censorship watch list

A media rights watchdog has listed Australia in a report on countries that pose a threat of internet censorship.
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Written by Suzanne Tindal, News Editor and  AAP on

A media rights watchdog has listed Australia in a report on countries that pose a threat of internet censorship.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Thursday put Australia and South Korea on its list of countries "under surveillance" in its "Internet Enemies" report.

Australia was listed for its government's plan to block access to websites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse. Critics say the plan is a misguided measure that will harm civil liberties.

In South Korea, the RSF report added, "draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship".

"These countries are worrying us because they have measures that could have repercussions for freedom of expression on the internet," RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard said at an internet rights award ceremony on Thursday.

Russia and Turkey were also added to the watchlist, which comprised of Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Eritrea, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The list is a category below RSF's top "Enemies of the internet", the countries it considered the 12 worst web freedom violators. These were China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

"The world's largest netizen prison is in China, which is far out ahead of other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves of brutal attacks on websites in recent months," RSF's report said.

A senior manager of US internet giant Google, David Drummond, said there was an "alarming trend" of government interference in online freedom, not only in countries that are judged to have poor human rights records.

He cited Australia's plans as an example, saying that "the wide scope of content prohibited could include socially and politically controversial material".

The Australian case "is an example of where these benign intentions can result in the spectre of true censorship", he added, speaking at Thursday's ceremony.

"Here in Europe, even in France, at this very moment, some are tempted by this slippery path of network filtering."

David Vaile, executive director of the University of New South Wales Cyberspace and Law Policy centre said that an outside observer might be concerned that the scope of the filter seemed broader than in other nations, as touched on by Drummond.

The observer might also have concerns about how the debate on the filter was being conducted, according to Vaile, because the government has failed to acknowledge that the filter was a form of censorship, when it was.

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