Friday, 13 January 2012 12:50

LCA code of conduct: devil is in the detail


At the 13th Australian national Linux conference that begins in Ballarat on Monday, all presentation material has to be suitable for people aged 12 and above.

This stipulation has little to do with the organisers themselves; it is part of the code of conduct drafted by Linux Australia, under whose auspices the LCA is held. Linux Australia also sponsors a Drupal conference, a Python conference and offers its patronage to the AdaCamp.

One has to be thankful that this stipulation was not in force at the last LCA in Brisbane, else Geoff Huston, the entertaining chief scientist from the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, would have been banned. Huston delivered what I rate as the second best of the four keynotes, liberally sprinkled with four-letter words.

Brisbane was also the venue for Mark Pesce's keynote which was the best of the four; unfortunately, Pesce fell foul of the organisers later on as some participants complained about sexual images he had used, which offended their sensibilities.

Pesce had to apologise, and it is unlikely that he will ever be back for any Linux Australia events. Incidentally, before he began his keynote, he warned the audience that he would use profanity and images that were not suitable for children.

FOSS events, these days, seem to be making news for things like this, rather than their content. At the Australian Python conference, PyCon 2011, held in August, there were two instances where its code of conduct was violated but details are unlikely to be  known; I asked, but silence has followed.

But in the presence of such detailed codes of conduct one has to ask: is this getting a little too structured, is this a little too much of trying to play the politician's game of legislating for everything?

There are many in the FOSS community who feel this way but few give vent to their opinions for fear of being dubbed as being anti-this or anti-that.

Last year, after the Pesce affair, there were discussions on the conference mailing list that ran hot and loud for a few days after the event ended. These illustrated the fact that while nobody wants to be offensive, the interpretation of that term varies widely.

One of the great things about the annual LCA is that it is good fun. There are plenty of good talks, a lot of socialising. Incidents like the Pesce one tend to divide the participants and overshadow the conference to he point where people forget that these events are about free and open source software.

But by drafting what is mostly a list of don'ts, Linux Australia has put itself in the position where the conference will lose some of its character because people are too conscious of what they say and do.

Organisers can take any sting out of things by screening the talks that are going to be delivered but statements like "Organisers will enforce this code throughout the event" tend to create the impression of some kind of mini police state.

Much of what is attempted to be defined is not really definable. After all, what is offensive to one, may be acceptable to a dozen others. And some of the participants who are aggressively pushing this kind of strictures would be put to shame if shown material which they themselves propagated on the internet in its early days.

Linux Australia president John Ferlito is a reasonable and highly intelligent individual. But I fear that in this case, he has let himself be caught up too much by interests from one side of the aisle.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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