Free speech for me, but not for thee

Those readers not familiar with Australia’s iteration of Common Law might be surprised freedom of speech is not enshrined in the Australian Constitution.

Precedent case law is not particularly helpful either to those believing we should be free to say what’s on our mind, limited only by the restriction of not inciting violence.

In fact, Federal legislation takes things even further in the opposite direction, with clause 18.C of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act legislating against “offensive behaviour” based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. Note, religion isn’t currently in that list.

There are further restrictions in State laws, this being the NSW example. The term “vilify” is used a lot in these versions of free speech restrictive laws.

“Vilify” isn’t a verb we tend to use much in our everyday lives, so our common understanding of its definition might be a little shaky. The Victorian version of free speech restriction law defines it as conduct that ‘incites hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule’.

…which is, frankly, a blank cheque for any politically-motivated judge presiding over a case. “Severe ridicule“, for example, could be used to describe most comedy, particularly political satire. And what’s the standard separating “severe” from simply “mild” ridicule?

Note also how the standard for the definition is the reaction in other people. Most laws have a punishment for your direct actions, yet this legislation punishes for possible future actions of others as a reaction to your action.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Further evidence that this is not the place to look for brave defence and defenders of the freedom of speech is depressingly simple to find. Examples;

Queen’sland University students hounded by the press for Facebook comments they didn’t write.

Foreign entertainers Milo Yianopolous, Gavin McInnes and political activist Tommy Robinson banned from entering the country because of their speech.

Clearly we are playing in a different ball game to the USA’s First Amendment. A different sport on a different planet, in fact.

However, our brave journalistic class are currently twisting their pinafores in angst and distress over a recent raid of the state broadcaster by the Federal police following publication of leaked classified information.

Let me just run that by you again; the government police are investigating the government news agency.

Oh look, a squirrel!

Here were are though, in 2019, finally seeing our brave media types getting behind a moral cause they are prepared to die in a ditch defending.

Slow hand clapWell played sir, well played”.

Geoffrey Robinson probably makes the best fist of explaining why the raid was on shaky moral ground, why it wouldn’t happen in the USA and UK and a defence of the media’s right to publish military secrets but, frankly, he completely fails to mention all the reasons we’ve arrived here in the first place, such as the media and legal professions’ failure to defend the little erosions of free speech over the years.

By trying to invent a right to “not be offended”, we’ve reduced the right of free speech, the consequences of which are playing out every day as hate speech laws are subjectively enforced. How else can they be enforced but subjectively, when the definition of “offence” is such a personal one?

Bill’s Opinion

Defending free speech is pretty virtueless if you only ever defend the speech with which you agree.

There is no Morality Olympics Gold Medal for only speaking up when your team is attacked. Nobel Peace Prizes aren’t usually as easy as Obama’s was to attain.

I have two questions to all those in the media who suddenly think free speech is important;

1. Where the fuck have you been for the last few decades? And,

2. Do you really think fighting for your right to publish illegally-leaked military secrets is going to be the best test case to take to appeal to reverse free speech restrictions, compared to say, defending some camp clown who writes hurty tweets on the internet?

11 Replies to “Free speech for me, but not for thee”

  1. I usually look at the reasons for people doing (or not doing) something.

    What does publishing a defence of hurty tweets and publishing illegally leaked documents have in common? Could it be to attract the most eyeballs/advertiser dollars?

    While they can dress both up as in the public interest, alternative actions are likely neither as attractive for traffic generation, and require more effort.

    Apart from the fact that the media doesn’t get the irony that mostly they love talking about themselves and their vital role in providing a living for themselves.

    1. Well yes, quite.

      In all this froth in the cappuccino of outrage, I have been looking for the defence based on first principles. Something like, “blah blah blah, free speech is an absolute, particularly freedom of the press but not just freedom of my class but also those people we find beyond the pale, blah blah blah”.

      In the absence of a principled basis of the complaints, it is of course just vested interests defending their industry. It’s no more moral or worthy than Doctor Andrew Wilson writing articles nagging the RBA to cut interest rates to save his profit margins, really, isn’t it?

  2. I can hear the anthem of the camp clowns writing hurry tweets ascending in the background now you’ve hurt them as well.

  3. I can hear the anthem of the camp clowns writing hurty tweets ascending in the background now you’ve hurt them as well.

  4. Totally & completely agree.
    Well said sir.

    Personally I would shove this sudden concern for “Press Freedom” in a job lot right up the rear passage, sans the benefit of axle grease to ease the way, of every one of these journos who’ve suddenly discovered they believe in press freedom.

    Avid twitter readers will have noted that, with some notable & honourable exceptions, the (now) squealing mob were totally silent when:
    Andrew Bolt was being prosecuted for an error of fact in an article (he mistook someone’s grandfather for their father, in an opinion piece – and yes, that is ALL he was prosecuted for)
    Bill Leak was being hounded for a cartoon of a cop returning an unruly kid to its father.
    Several uni students (it was 7, not 3 as is popularly believed) were being persecuted, some of whom were (incredibly) not informed until after the verdict that there was even a case being brought against them.
    There wasn’t a peep when the Greens party brought a policy to the recent federal election, a policy of prosecuting or “closing down” certain named commentators.

    However there WAS a bit said when Annika Smethurst of News Ltd was subjected to a search warrant & home invasion. Mostly the commentary was “Sucked in bitch” and “You’re Murdoch whore, you deserve it”, and “You backed the LNP, don’t expect help from me”

    The squealing began only the next day, when their ALPBC was subjected to a search warrant.

    I’d take every one of the squealing hypocritical bastards 200nm out to sea in a landing craft, and sink the bloody thing.

    1. Exactly.

      I know a couple of journalists and, after a few drinks I usually end the evening by asking them how their employers reported the “84 year old Australian entertainer living in Berkshire, England” at the time?

      And then I smile and nod and they go quiet.

      1. One of my favourite moments in journalism was a few years ago when Murdoch’s UK tabloid was being pilloried in the court of public opinion for alleged phone hacking – supposedly hacking into the mobile phone messages & history of a murder victim.

        The TV stations were going berserk, the broadsheet newspapers were full of thundering editorials & news articles dripping with fury, politicians were channeling their inner Fire & Brimstone pulpit preacher mode, etc.

        The most noticeable aspect, and it seemed to escape many/most, was the total & complete silence from all the other UK tabloids.

          1. Lots of rumours about whether or not he was doing the same, including a fairly damning quotation but no charges.

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