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“Film Censorship in Western Australia: Public, Government and Industrial Responses 1898-1928”

Walker, S. (2002) “Film Censorship in Western Australia: Public, Government and Industrial Responses 1898-1928”. eLaw Journal: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, 9 (3).

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Much work has been undertaken by legal writers on the present debates surrounding censorship in Australia.Many of these writings focus their critique on the extent to which Australian censorship law attempts to regulate public morality and the problems that arise form such an approach. Other work has critiqued the issue of whether this legislative sphere is best handled at the Federal level or the State level. While this work is important in its own right, very little of this work describes the historical debates and reform initiatives from which present legislative censorship policies now find their source. This leaves an unfortunate gap in the writing on state sanctioned censorship within this country, for without an understanding of the ways in which the public and past governments have responded to calls for tighter controls on what people should view, an incomplete understanding of the source and reasons for modern day censorship campaigns emerges.

This paper examines the responses made by the Western Australian public, government and film industry to the question of film censorship between 1898 and 1928: it examines the similarities and differences between Western Australian responses and responses in the eastern states. It aims to rectify two major imbalances in existing work: firstly, the stress upon eastern states' responses as representative of Australia as a whole; and secondly, the failure to integrate political, social and economic influences which shaped the development of film censorship. As well it identifies transitions in public perceptions of film between 1898 and 1928.

While there were similarities in Western Australia and eastern states' responses to film there were also differences, particularly in the way government and public organisations responded to the debate. In particular, the conclusion drawn in previous studies, that the public initially complained about film as medium rather than film's message is not true for Western Australia. As well, there were noticeable transitions in the way people perceived the effects of film. In the 1910s organisations did not complain about both the immorality of film content and the link between film and criminal behaviour. Rather the debate about criminal behaviour did not develop until after 1916 and this transition was a reflection of the changing content of film in this period. An examination of political, social and economic factors affecting film censorship in Western Australia indicates that an analysis of film censorship which ignores any of these factors within their historical context ignores the complex interplay which shaped Australian film censorship controls and which arguably impact upon present day censorship policies.

This paper is divided into five parts. Part One discusses the introduction of moving pictures into Western Australia and highlights some misconceptions which have occurred in previous studies of this early period. Parts Two and Three examine government, industrial and public responses to the question of film censorship between 1911 and 1927. Part four discusses the Minutes of Evidence from the Royal Commission and Part five provides the conclusion. Central to the paper is the changing public perceptions, between the early 1900s and 1927, of the effect of films upon the child and society.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: School of Law, Murdoch University
Copyright: Sonia Walker
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