Is this censorship?

May 19, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

I was fairly staggered to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that a municipal library here in Sydney was “visited” by counter-terrorism police. What for? Well, the library in question – Leichhardt Municipal Library – was planning to host an exhibition of photos and poems of a local community group, Friends of Hebron. The pictorial display, Al-Nakba, was to be launched on May 9th. That was the plan. But on May 8th, things went pear-shaped.

As the library prepared the exhibits the night before the launch, the secret-squirrel squad arrived just before the library closed at 8.00pm. Now back in the mists of time, before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was a librarian. I remember many an exhibition being held by the libraries I worked in: historical photos of the neighbourhood, photos from WWII, an exhibition of famous Australian women writers, and I even remember that the libraries often hosted exhibitions by community groups. Last time I looked, that’s what libraries did: they support and educate the local community.

So why shouldn’t Friends of Hebron be allowed to have an exhibition? According to the article, the counter-terrorism police had only dropped by the library to say “hi”. Yeah? They just happened to be cruising through Leichhardt on their way to pick up a yummy cannoli or two! A police spokesperson said: “They went to introduce themselves just to let them know who they are and what they are about. {Speaking with community groups] is part of their charter… When they got there the librarian was the only one there … they just had a quick chat to the librarian.”

Why not show up at the launch then? Drop by to see the photos, press the flesh with the community? Dropping by the night before the exhibition is to open reminds me very much of Nazi Germany – people whisked off in the middle of the night. Or strong arm tactics.

So what the heck is going on here? A Friends of Hebron member’s view is that they wanted to put the fear of God into the librarian and drop a huge hint about not holding the exhibition. Now if the Friends of Hebron photos were to depict detailed instructions on how to build a bomb or if their poems exhorted people to take up arms, then I can understand the secret squirrel dudes might wish to have a word or two about it.

The librarian has not spoken publicly about this from what I can tell. And the very next morning, the decision was taken to can the exhibition. Naturally, this has led to comments about “this is the censorship of Palestine” and you have to wonder if the secret squirrel police are now deciding what can and what can not be placed on public walls in Australia. And of course the Local Council and the library are taking the stiff upper lip route and saying the decision to blow off the exhibition had nothing to do with the police dropping in for a chat.

This doesn’t wash with me. Apparently the librarian had already approved the exhibition and said it could be viewed by children and library patrons. I doubt she’s an idiot. She would have discussed this with her superiors. You don’t mount an exhibition in 10 nano-seconds, so there would have been plenty of pre-planning, discussions with the community group and so on. In other words, people knew this exhibition would be happening and they saw no reason to not go ahead with it. There’s been some bleating about a “breakdown of managerial process” in that the council is saying that all exhibitions need to be assessed by a panel of councillors and that the Al-Nakba exhibition fell through the cracks. Well, I reckon the librarian and library staff would be aware if that had happened and would not have gone ahead.

Any librarian with a couple of brain cells would ensure that how the photos were described, the captions used and so on would not offend other community groups. A library’s role is to promote and champion all community groups, not just favour one. So I doubt very much that the library was busy secretly planning to launch the Friends of Hebron onto the whole community and shove what they stand for down collective throats.

So…what do we have here? Censorship? Clearly, the exhibition had something to do with Palestine and the dispossession of people there. Is this a topic the Australian people cannot hear or learn about? Are we now living in a country that actively promotes censorship??

I think I’m hyperventilating; off for a quick lie down!

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Entry filed under: Australia, Censorship, Rant.

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