Students fight for free speech


By Marina Cameron

SYDNEY — Judgment was reserved by the Classification Review Board on July 12 on the appeal of four former editors of the La Trobe University student newspaper Rabelais. The editors face criminal charges under the National Censorship Scheme for publishing an article on shoplifting which allegedly "promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime".

The Office of Film and Literature Classification refused to classify the edition of Rabelais in 1995, which in effect meant that it was banned. The editors' first knowledge of the decision came when they were informed by the Victoria Police in February that they were being prosecuted. During this time the federal government, under media pressure, had directly advised the Victorian attorney general that the newspaper should be prosecuted.

The success of the appeal to the Classification Review Board would almost certainly mean the defeat of criminal charges. Melita Berndt, one of the editors, told Green Left Weekly on July 12 that she thought the hearing had been "positive", although no outcome had yet been reached.

The National Classification Scheme is supposed to be aimed at controlling exposure to violent or sexually explicit material, particularly of children. The prosecution of the Rabelais editors represents a new use of the legislation, setting a dangerous precedent. The appeal has drawn support from a wide range of groups, trade unions and individuals.

In support of the editors, students gagged the mouths of a number of statues in the city centre on July 11. A spokesperson said, "By gagging prominent statues around Sydney, we hope to draw attention to the political nature of the banning of student publications".