Diatribe against "Self-Regulation"

Except for the addition of this comment and changes to the layout and navigation links, the content of this page was last updated on 30 November 1997 at 8:30am.

Self-Regulation is Privatised Censorship

by Dr Michael Baker

This is a short diatribe against the dangers of falling for the "self-regulation" hoax. I don't think the hoax is intentional, becuase I don't think its perpetrators know any better. However if we don't do something about it, it will be inflicted on both Australia and Europe.

What is "self-regulation"? In the normal sense of the phrase, it's when a group of people, or companies or what ever, decide that in their own best interest, they should themselves regulate how they go about their joint interests. I don't know of any universal examples, but here's one that's at least holds in Australia, Britain, and the US. Most professions, doctors, lawyers, engineers, have a professional body, which sets standards for entry into the profession, rules to be abided by members, and disciplines members for any breaches of those rules. Some even have the force of law - you can't practice as a doctor unless you are a member of the medical association, or their rules may even be enshrined in legislation - but that does not detract from their self-regulatory nature.

Now let's look at what is being proposed for the "Internet Insustry". What is the "Internet Industry"? In the eyes of those who would see it self regulate it must include all content providers, which we all know includes many who's only connection with the Internet is that they use it. What is being suggested in the name of "self-regulation" is not that ISP's should as a group regulate their own behaviour, but that of their customers. It's like requiring doctor's to report over-weight people to weight watchers, and people with drinking problems to alcoholic's anonymous, not because doctor's think it would be good to do, but because the government is forcing them to do it.

So to my mind what is being proposed in the name of "self-regulation" is nothing of the sort. Rather it is "privatised censorship". Note that's not "private", but "privat-ISED," referring to the fairly common occurrence of having a formerly direct government function turned over to administration by a private agency. It's a more sophisticated means of achieving the same goal. The backing is still state power and government threat, but the actual implementation and mechanics of the suppression of material is delegated to a trade group.

So lets not fall for the hoax, lets point out what this realy is.


My thanks to Seth Finkelstein who provided me with the term and description of "privitised censorship", and Irene Graham who encouraged me to put this diatribe on the web.

For other related resources see Seth's Information about Labeling and Rating Systems page of the MIT Student Association for Freedom of Expression and Irene Graham's The Net Labelling Delusion which is part of "The Net Censorship Dilemma".


Last updated 30 November 1997
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