Don’t mention the war on freedom of speech
Shut up, shut down, and keep quiet. That’s been the disturbing theme in the news in the last week with political correctness and censorship everywhere you look.
It appears we’ve lost our sense of humour and our sense of what it means to live in a free-thinking democracy.
The biggie – national anti-discrimination laws.
Australia prides itself on its diversity and claims that multiculturalism is one of its strengths. Yet, the Gillard Government is proposing laws that will make it illegal to say anything or do anything that may offend someone else. Where two views collide, someone may be offended. And THAT will be illegal.
That may not be the intent of the laws, but it certainly will be the practice. And it will be a field day for any ambulance chasing lawyer.
“A step towards totalitarianism” is how Cardinal George Pell has described the proposed laws.
“Fundamentally undemocratic”, said one union boss. And from civil libertarians, law makers and state governments rare agreement about the dangerous path it will lead us on. It’s a bizarre outcome when even the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board claims the laws are discriminatory.
The Government’s being so careful not to offend, it’s becoming offensive.
There’s an irony here that the PM’s own partner, Tim Mathieson, would potentially have been subject to the wrath of those laws had he uttered his Asian doctor joke when they were in play.
Mathieson, who is surely one of the most inoffensive, well-meaning people on the political sidelines, tried to make light of a subject that’s difficult for many men to talk about – prostate checks.
In urging men to get a physical exam he said, “perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor is probably the best way.”
Silly, perhaps. Offensive? Come on. The comments sparked talk-back radio outrage from many of the very people opposed to those oppressive new anti-discrimination laws.
The fact he was forced to apologise offends ME. I’ll have to find out who I can sue about that.
But back to the Government and its poor track record this week on trying to do what’s politically correct, yet causing offence to great slabs of the electorate and even its own party in this case.
Nova Peris. Her appointment to the top of the Northern Territory’s Senate ticket should have been cause for celebration as the first Aboriginal ALP member in parliament.
But punting a loyal 15-year veteran of the Senate to accommodate this political novice has angered many staunch Labor supporters, as well as member of the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
The fall out and recriminations have been unfair on Nova Peris. What should be an historic move is being seen as tokenistic. Power on a platter is seen as charity. What a shame when there are so many strong, passionate Aboriginal activists and campaigners in this country who want to make a difference. But it comes down to control. When people are told what to say and think they feel oppressed.
Don’t mention the war over political correctness and censorship to fans of Fawlty Towers. This week viewers were in uproar when British censors edited the 1970s comedy to cater for modern sensitivities.
In the episode The Germans the BBC edited out racist language by the “Major”. A 60-second chunk of the program where the elderly hotel resident Major Gowen corrected a racist slur with another racist slur, was edited out so as not to offend modern viewers. Oddly they left in plenty of other language and scripting that could be seen to be racist.
Viewers complained the TV station was editing out history. Australian TV programmers couldn’t rule out editing here, too, especially in a family viewing slot.
Why are we so precious about what people say these days? Doesn’t it feel good and perhaps a bit liberating to hear someone say something naughty sometimes?
We rarely see impromptu displays of real passion from our pollies. They are scripted and on message. But can you blame them? We are quick to attack the moment a glimpse of their real personalities escape. An honest remark is not quickly forgotten, especially in an era of instant social media.
Is this the kind of world we want to live in? I don’t. I want to know what people really think. I want to be able to have a debate. I want to be able to have a laugh at an opinion I disagree with.
A friend of mine started “politically incorrect Fridays” at work. The idea is that on that day you don’t worry about offending anyone. You say what’s on your mind. Be cheeky. Anything goes, provided it comes from a good place. It has to be well meaning. And that’s the real message here. When comments come from love, from celebration, form humour, they can be taken in good measure.
Debate shouldn’t be stifled, it should be encouraged. Freedom is lost one day.. one word at a time.
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