As McDonald’s reviews its ban on access to some gay websites through its free WiFi service, the story is sparking wide-ranging responses, with many people agreeing that sites for community welfare groups such as Rainbow Youth should not be blocked, but others such as GayNZ.com may not be appropriate.
Emails and comments have poured in to GayNZ.com on the issue. Some people believe McDonald’s is practicing blatant censorship and a Facebook group called “McDiscrimination” has been set up by Wellington theatre director Ronald T Nelson, who bought Mates and Lovers to the stage.
Others believe GayNZ.com’s content should be censored, mostly due to its advertisements for saunas and sex shops.
Dan Hawke writes, “Having recently read your open letter to McDonalds, I felt the need to respond because I feel that it is biased and inappropriate for you to call yourself a ‘family-friendly” site considering the general level of the advertising that you allow on your site.
“You commonly feature scantily-clad men offering adult-focused events (R18 bars and venues, ‘cruise saunas’ etc.), which you have tried to compare to the sort of advertising on sites like Hotmail, but I do not believe a rational, unbiased person would come to the same conclusion as their advertising does not include sexually-explicit advertising nor is it designed to included pop-up advertising.”
Hawke suggests GayNZ.com should review whether it wishes to focus on being family-friendly site, and if so it should reconsider the types of advertising and content it allows.
However, GayNZ.com’s Content Editor Jay Bennie says the site has never described itself as “family friendly,” “certainly not in the context of being 100% appropriate for young children.” But, he says, it seems a shame that McDonald’s policy seems inconsistent and notes that many sites carry a variety of information, some of which is valuable to teenagers and young adults and some of which is more adult-suitable. “It’s a pity McDonald’s has to block the entire content of such broad ranging sites and cannot be more considered and selective. If they must block the likes of GayNZ.com because of some of our content then I hope they will apply the same criteria to non-gay sites which also contain some adult content and even virulent homophobic material.”
The majority of those who think GayNZ.com should be censored appear to agree that it’s unfair for sites such as Rainbow Youth, Agender and Family Planning to be blocked from the fast food giant’s service.
Family Planning has since joined the groups who have written to McDonald’s, asking for two of its websites to be available to customers using free WiFi – both its main site and its youth-oriented site http://www.theword.org.nz/have been blocked.
“I understand the blocking of these sites was a function of the filter you’re using rather than a specific decision by your organisation,” Chief Executive Jackie Edmond has written. “However, as a responsible corporate I urge your organisation to review and remove this block and allow your customers access to our sites and the quality information they contain.”
Among those who have weighed in on the debate is the Director of right-wing “family” group Family First, Bob McCoskrie, who is encouraging McDonald’s Restaurants to maintain its ‘family friendly’ policy regarding its free WiFi services being offered in its restaurants.
“Websites containing explicit sexual material and images should continue to be banned by the family restaurant as the welfare and protection of children and families from offensive and inappropriate material is paramount,” he says.
“The issue is not about the type of group. It is about the content, and material which is adult-rated should be blocked in a public setting like McDonalds. The same type of filtering should be present in schools and libraries, and McDonald’s are to be congratulated for putting families first.
“Some of the websites which they have blocked have been blocked for good reason. People desperate to access this material will have to do it in a private setting through their own server, McCoskrie continues.
“Organisations who are complaining about the actions of McDonald’s simply need to clean their websites up to make them family friendly.”
Another person who agrees with McDonald’s is self-described “political activist” Jevan Goulter, who featured in the Uncertain category of the recently published GayNZ.com 2010 Dishonours List, has issued statement of support for the burger chain.
“I completely support the decision of Mc Donald’s New Zealand in blocking websites such as GayNZ.com. One of the reasons being, that it is almost impossible to venture through to their website without images popping up on their homepage that are disturbing to even the likes of me, and if I find it offensive then I completely understand why families and young people would deem it unacceptable.”
Goulter attacks GayNZ.com and its Content Editor Jay Bennie as living in the stone ages, “thinking that people like me still get beaten up and stoned to death in our country, the reality being that this is not the case.”
He adds, “Other gay sites like aaronandandy.com were not blocked, as their material would rarely (or never) exhibit nudity and nor would it offend people if it were opened on a computer screen.”
(Meanwhile Goulter has also announced that following his failed Wanganui mayoral campaign he is planning to stand in the 2012 Gold Coast City Council Elections. He professes to be a Greens supporter and says he will stand under an environment banner.)
The story has been picked up globally and GayNZ.com Daily News has been contacted by staff from foreign GLBT websites and asked to check whether access to their sites has also been blocked in New Zealand McDonald’s.
Interestingly this website is available in Australian McDonald’s outlets our contacts have checked – in the nation where McDonald’s New Zealand’s WiFi filters are administered from by its provider. GayNZ.com is also freely available at UK McDonald’s outlets.
McDonald’s has a recent history of gay-friendly initiatives, including an ad featuring a gay teenager in France, sponsorship of the 2007 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade and donating to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in 2008, despite a boycott from the American Family Association.
“Hatred has no place in our culture,” McDonald’s USA spokesman Bill Whitman told the Washington post in 2008. “That includes McDonald’s, and we stand by and support our people to live and work in a society free of discrimination and harassment.”
- McDonald’s: Where Gay Websites Aren’t Considered Family Friendly? (gayrights.change.org)
- McDonald’s Wi-Fi Blocks Spark Anger (censorshipinamerica.wordpress.com)
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On closer investigation of the filtering system used by MacDonalds, BlueCoat, we found that it is the subject of similar legal objections from the ACLU, who has found that it is blocking access to avowedly non-sexual websites in Florida, Tennessee and other high schools.
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