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Video clip synopsis – John Safran discusses censorship in Australian media.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 0min 35sec
Tags - audiences, beliefs, broadcasting, censorship, current affairs programs, Law, media and society, media influence, national identity, national interest, propaganda, World War 2, see all tags


Censorship in Media

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About the Video Clip


This interview with John Safran was recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

John Safran is a Filmmaker and self-proclaimed media hooligan. You can view his full biography at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


In this English unit students will:

  • discuss concepts of censorship in Australia, and how it relates to their own lives
  • discuss how the concept of what is deemed acceptable for audiences over time has changed
  • construct a display poster about wartime censorship
  • write a short story fictionalising wartime censorship
  • deliver a speech to a defined audience about an aspect of censorship.
  • research the attitudes of their community to censorship via DVD interviews

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 9
Reading, viewing and interpreting information and argument texts

  • Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate, analyse, argue and persuade. These texts explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.
  • Students understand that readers and viewers may ned to develop knowledge about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


  • When students write information or argument texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.
  • Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of their expanding world.

The activities are also relevant to Media Studies- Censorship, Representation, Regulation and Audiences.

These are extracts only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.
Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

Background Information


At the start of World War II in 1939 Australians rushed to support Britain – the mother country – in her battle with Hitler’s Nazis. Then the Japanese bombed Darwin, killing hundreds, and the nation realised a greater enemy was battering at the door. Help came not from Britain but from a new friend, the United States. The 1940s shifted Australia’s sense of its place in the world.

Control & Censorship
The Government used its influence over radio, newsreel and the print media during World War II (1939-45), in an attempt to control the way in which the war was reported. Information was carefully used by the media as a tool for managing public opinion and boosting morale.

In some instances reports distorted the truth by, for example, minimising the number of casualties or the extent of damage. Sometimes significant current events were not reported at all, such as the death of approximately 243 Australians following the Japanese bombing of Darwin.

Much of the news and commentary was prepared or directly influenced by the Commonwealth Department of Information (DOI). The DOI used what people read in the newspapers, listened to via radio, and watched on newsreels at the cinema to ‘heighten the war effort’. (Inglis 79)

Sir Keith Murdoch, the Managing Director of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. (and father of Rupert Murdoch), was made Director-General of Information, with the power to control 'every avenue of publicity’.

Other official bodies who influenced what would be broadcast included the Army, the Navy and
the United States’ General Headquarters in Melbourne.

In addition, the Government keenly scrutinised the nation’s media proprietors, particularly those thought to be a threat to national security. In January 1941, “the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church was declared illegal because of its anti-war views”. (Darlington 362) Subsequently, the broadcast licences of four radio stations owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses were revoked by the Postmaster-General’s Department for fear they would obstruct the war effort. The stations were 2HD Newcastle, 5KA Adelaide, 5AU Port Augusta and 4AT Atherton. (NFSA)

Mentions of media censorship were suppressed, and the Government threatened penalties for breaches of censorship. Despite people’s recognition of the role of censorship during a time of national emergency, many, including those involved in producing broadcasts, criticised the Government’s censorship of the media as too extreme, and some even compared the suppression and interference to Dr Goebbels’ Department of Propaganda and Enlightenment in Nazi Germany.

Classroom Activities

  1. Getting started
    As a class, view the broadcaster interview with John Safran then discuss and write notes on the following:
    1. Define John Safran’s view of what he calls the ‘traditional’ meaning of censorship, and comment on whether he believes this form of censorship occurs in Australia or not.
    2. Discuss why governments believe that audiences should not have access to some media products and how the classification system has developed to categorize materials by age suitablility.
    3. Comment on whether governmental controls over swearing, sexuality and violence in films and TV fiction programs serve a positive purpose within Australian society, or whether there should be no censorship and control over these at all.
    4. Does the current classification system, G, PG, M, MA and R realistically reflect how different ages understand and respond to media? For example it is argued that children should be protected from violent and adult themes..
    5. Comment on whether there are any newspaper photographs or TV news programs of real-life events that contain images you believe should never be published or screened. Are there any you have seen that ought to have been censored?
  2. Constructing a poster display about wartime censorship
    In pairs research either newspaper, newsreel or radio censorship in Australia during World War 2, then construct a large illustrated poster display about it. The class should make sure posters are produced dealing with all three areas of the mass media.
  3. Writing a short story about censorship
    From your research about wartime censorship, draft, edit, revise and proofread a short story of 500–700 words about any aspect of life in Australia during World War 2 where media censorship is an issue or a theme. (You may wish to discuss the plot, character and setting possibilities in class first.)
  4. Delivering a speech defending a computer game’s violence
    You belong to a team constructing a fight-scenario computer game that has been criticised for being excessively violent. Prepare a two-minute speech to the Office of Film and Literature Classification arguing why the game should not be censored. Present to your class.
  5. Researching how different audiences respond to genres and themes in media.
    Interview a range of ages and different cultures and personality types in your school on DVD with the aim of presenting as many views as possible. The edited DVD could then be presented as part of a current affairs style program on Censorship. For advice on production and editing of video see further resoures below.

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

Go to Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library, Censorship and Classification in Australia, Kim Jackson, Analysis and Policy, Social Policy Group.

Go to Australian Broadcasting Authority, Broadcasting Services Act 1992, ABA 1992

Office of Film and Literature Classification

Trinity College, PL Duffy Resource Centre, Censorship: Ever Justified?

Peter Dunn’s Australia at War Censors in Australia during World War Two

Go to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation for definitions of the child audience and the classification of children’s television.

Caslon Analytics profile, Aust and NZ censorship, October 2005

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and study guides for on all topics relating to censorship and audiences and video production.

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the National Museum also run workshops for media production.

Read Media new ways and meanings 3rd Ed. by Colin Stewart and Adam Kowaltzke. Jacaranda, Milton, QLD, 2008. Go to a sample of chapters online at Jacaranda Books