Reporters Without Borders voiced shock today at the methods used by the office of Australian Prime Minister John Howard to censor parody website Johnhowardpm.org, on which political commentator Richard Neville posted a spoof speech by Howard about the presence of Australian troops in Iraq.
The prime minister’s office had the website closed down on 14 March by going to Melbourne IT, the company that administers its domain name.
“All the world’s leaders are subject to parody and the Australian prime minister should learn to live with it rather than banning it,” Reporters Without Borders said. “And anyway, to close down a website, a court order should be required, not just an administrative decision. This type of censorship is unacceptable in democracy, in which website managers have the same rights as those who run traditional media.”
Aping the design of the prime minister’s official website, the satirical johnhowardpm.org website carried spoof statements by Howard. A supposed fault in its registration with Melbourne IT was the grounds given for its closure. But Reporters Without Borders has verified that it was registered under the name of R. Neville and was therefore perfectly valid.
Melbourne IT blocked the domain name in response to an e-mail request from a member of the prime minister’s office. Johnhowardpm.org is now redirected to Neville’s personal website on which the Iraq war spoof speech is available.
Neville has not received any official notification of the site’s closure. He angrily told Reporters Without Borders: “I think that closing down a website is like burning a newspaper, only it is done with a velvet glove. There would have been people in the street if a newspaper had been censored like this.” Although the site was online for only 36 hours, it received more than 10,000 visits, he said.
Reporters Without Borders has condemned other cases of pressure being put on domain name administrators to censor websites. Last December, the Kazakh government managed to strip British comedian Ali G. of the ability to use the .kz domain name for his website. More details.
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