I happened to be browsing the parliament house website one day and came across an article entitled
“International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (White Ribbon Day)—25 November 2014“. Below the article was the statement:
“We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan.”
I considered it to be a rather biased and obviously pro-feminist attempt at addressing the issue of WRD and domestic violence. I subsequently submitted a comment that pointed out the one-sided nature of the information presented, noting that many had concerns about the approach adopted by the White Ribbon movement, and mentioning some of the issues noted elsewhere in this blog.
Anyway my comment never emerged from moderation and so I wrote to the head of the Parliament House Library, Dr Dianne Heriot, on 1 December 2014:
“Dear Dr Heriot
I’m sorry to trouble you with this matter but I could not find an email address related to the Flagpost section of your web site. Would you mind please passing it on to the relevant member of staff?
Some days ago I posted a response to an article in Flagpost (URL below), and received an auto message that it would be reviewed by a moderator. My comment, which was quite inoffensive, never appeared and I am wondering what happened. As other items in Flagpost all seem to be lacking any comments, perhaps any such comments have been lost in the system (?) Pls advise.”
Joanne James, Director Client Relations, responded the same day, stating:
“Dr Heriot has asked me to respond to your enquiry. Your comment was received on Friday afternoon, and was forwarded on this morning to the author of the post for consideration (we do not work on the weekends). We do not receive a lot of comments on our blog, but we do receive quite a bit of spam directed as comments – these tend to take a bit of time to sift through.
Janet will consider your thoughts as soon as possible, but as it is a sitting week, she may be caught up with other requests from the parliament.”
I thanked Joanne and waited patiently until 16 December 2014, when I wrote to her again:
“Hi Joanne. Just touching base again about the reader comment I contributed.
The comment has yet to be uploaded, nor have I heard from Janet. Given that my comment does not appear to breach your posting guidelines, it would be appreciated if you would kindly pass on a gentle reminder. You mentioned that not many people contribute comments to the blog – this might be one reason.”
Thus finally on the 17th December 2014 I received the following news:
“I have spoken to the author and their Director. They advise that the comment wasn’t published as it was deemed not to be relevant to the post, which was specifically about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (White Ribbon Day).
They also indicated that the Parliamentary Library paper referred to in the post, Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues, updates several previous Parliamentary Library publications specifically on the levels of violence experienced by women in Australia. The paper acknowledges that men experience high levels of violence and refers readers to the ABS Personal Safety Survey for more detail on the nature of the violence experienced specifically by men in Australia.”
Harking back to the comment that I originally submitted (and of which I regrettably neglected to retain a copy), let’s just quickly run through the Library’s criteria to see if I crossed the line:
Spam – no, profanity – no, personal abuse – no, factually incorrect – I don’t believe so, politically partisan – no. That just leaves “the objectives of FlagPost“, so I wrote back to Joanne seeking details thereof.
Jonathan Curtis, head of the research branch in the Library, kindly wrote back to me on 19 December 2014 advising:
“The general objective that appears on the website is: “FlagPost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament”. More generally, it is to provide timely, brief, summary information to our clients (ie. MPs and Senators) and to alert them to recent research, publications and information.
However, as Joanne noted, your comment was not published because the Director considered that it was not directly relevant to main subject of the post.”
So in other words ‘we reserve the right to use hitherto unmentioned reasons to block reader feedback in relation to our articles, as and when it runs contrary to the personal views of the author’.
My subsequent response to Jonathan read as follows:
“Thank you for getting back to me with those further details.
So it would appear that I was correct in my assumption that my comment was blocked on the basis of criteria other than those stipulated in your web site.
The article provided background to White Ribbon Day, together with a degree of embellishment that presumably reflected the author’s own perspective on the matter. In my comment I sought to indicate that many people have significant reservations about the appropriateness or effectiveness of addressing domestic violence by focussing solely on violence against women – this being at the core of the White Ribbon movement. I also sought to indicate the existence of reasonable and fairly widely-held concerns regarding the accuracy of statements made by White Ribbon Campaign to support their position.
You note the primary function of the Library as being “to provide timely, brief, summary information to our clients (ie. MPs and Senators) and to alert them to recent research, publications and information.” I believe that it is vitally important that our elected representatives are kept abreast of alternative perspectives, rather than only being exposed to one particular position that happens to be most in vogue at the time.
I believe that blocking the voices of those who question or disagree with a particular position put forward by a member of the Library’s staff amounts to censorship of the basis of ideology, and that that is not an appropriate function of an Australian library. This same view is noted for example at http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/
“A public library has a role as an unbiased source of information and ideas, including online content. It must accept responsibility for providing free access to materials and information presenting, as far as possible, all points of view on current and historical issues, including controversial issues.””