Otago Daily Times 23 Aug 2012
An automated web content filter for the Dunedin City Council’s internal network has deemed a Family First New Zealand website on traditional marriage a “hate” site, and blocked access for staff. The block on the “Protect Marriage” website, which promotes marriage between a man and a woman, has outraged Family First NZ director Bob McCoskrie, who says it is discriminatory and the result of an agenda being pushed either by someone at the council, or at the content filter company. “It’s part of a culture war that is going on at the moment. Activists are working hard to eliminate all opposing debate on this important family issue – as we experienced with the unprecedented hacking of our website when first launched.” The council says there was no conscious decision to block the site. Mr McCoskrie said the lobby group was contacted by a city council staff member who, he said, was “stunned” when they tried to access the website to sign the group’s petition against a Labour Party Bill to legalise gay marriage, and was told the site was deemed “hate” and that the web page “contravenes Dunedin City Council’s acceptable usage policy”. “The staff member’s response was that ‘if the concept that marriage should be between a man and a woman is offensive, then I despair for the future of this country’. We agree,” Mr McCoskrie said.
Council communications and marketing manager Graham McKerracher said the council did not control the filtering process, which was done by a United States company. When the company was employed, the council gave it broad categories of offensive content it wanted limited in its internal network. The company’s filter automatically scanned sites for words or phrases that placed sites in those categories and sites deemed offensive were automatically blocked. Mr McKerracher could not say why the Protect Marriage site was blocked. But a block meant the site, or someone leaving a comment on the site, might have used language determined by the filter to be offensive, resulting in the site being put on a banned list. Comments could not be left on the site and he was confident none of the administrators or owners of the site had previously done anything that could be construed as offensive or “hate” related, Mr McCoskrie said. “My challenge to them is to produce the evidence.” Council staff were still able to access gay marriage websites, and at least two other websites blacklisted by web filters at other companies. “It is highly hypocritical and inconsistent that one side of the debate can be blocked, but not the other. This is discrimination at its worst and [the council] seems to be initiating their own version of hate speech laws.” Mr McKerracher said if sites promoting gay marriage had not been picked up by the same filter it was because no offending words or phrases that placed them in a category that was blocked were identified. He said any staff member who wanted to fill out the petition could do so at home.