You don’t have the right to not be offended
Two important lessons are discernible from the disgrace of radio bullyboy Alan Jones. Neither is particularly attractive.
One is the stark exposure of Mr Jones’ true nature courtesy of his own choice words.
The second aspect, which cuts the other way, is the extent to which free speech in Australia remains negotiable against what is deemed acceptable by a political correctness brigade now fortified with social media.
Leaving aside the Labor Government’s cynical full court press on Tony Abbott - an opportunistic exercise in misdirection - quasi-official calls for the opinionated shock-jock to be silenced should raise public concerns. Remember, Jones’s sickening comments were not even made on air.
It is well known that some Labor MPs want to neuter the media and that they are looking for every bit of leverage they can find to help in that undemocratic project.
Their enthusiasm was a bit too obvious yesterday when there was no shortage of senior figures whipping along the anti-Jones/anti-Abbott outrage on Twitter, milking the unspeakable offence for all it is worth and more.
But that said, it certainly was offensive.
Jones’s comment to a Liberal club dinner about the Prime Minister’s recently deceased father was unforgivable. Only a person for whom common decency is foreign could even conceive of such a thing.
Its utterance and apparently easy consumption by a roomful of Jones’s sycophants, provides the latest jarring example of the trashing of social standards by the self-appointed chief protectors of those same standards, the moralising conservative right.
And when it comes to the MCR, they don’t come much more strident and hypocritical than Mr Jones himself - a man who is deliberately loose with the facts yet brands others liars with equal deliberation.
Jones may be on radio every day and too many other places besides, but what this behind-closed-doors incident has given us is an insider view.
This after all, was the real article: Alan Jones; unplugged, undiluted, hopelessly unfunny and decidedly uncouth.
But as appalled as many people rightly are, public revulsion alone does not justify shutting him down - at least not by fiat anyway. His speech was offensive but it was not an offence.
And as Salman Rushdie so eloquently observed in the context of the recent Innocence of Muslims furore, no one has the legal right not to be offended - nobody in a free society can or should be inured from exposure to things with which they disagree.
Rather, the cost of making distasteful and hurtful comments should be their clear repudiation in the marketplace of ideas and the opprobrium attached to their author.
Of that there is plenty for Mr Jones at present.
Corporate sponsors were yesterday voting with the feet and abandoning his show.
Yet the public outrage to which they were most attuned was probably that being driven along on Twitter - hardly Mr Jones’s low-brow demographic. These companies obviously felt they had little choice such is the scope for rapid damage to their brands via social media for comments they had no part in.
This aspect of the affair raises whole new questions about diversity of voices which are not yet understood.
And that may be worse for democracy in the long run than any hurt caused by a ranting old hate-merchant with no judgment or basic humanity.
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