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.
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Carly Ryan’s killer had only just begun his life sentence when a person stopped me in the street to ask: “what’s so wrong with lying about your age on the internet?”
It was January 2010. Garry Francis Newman – a balding, overweight paedophile – had been found guilty of Miss Ryan’s 2007 murder. Jurors had been rightly disgusted by the months Newman spent masquerading, online, as a 20-year-old “emo guitarist” named Brandon Kane to win the teenager’s trust and love. Equally appalled, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon had proposed what I’d considered inarguably sensible new legislation. He wanted an eight-year jail term for those who lie about their age, online, to a child. He called it “Carly’s Law”.
“What’s so wrong with lying about your age on the internet?” the passerby asked. There was, they said, no rule requiring you “be yourself” online. And besides, we already had “plenty” of laws police could use to catch paedophiles.
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The Punch has asked me for some examples of offensive speech that might be caught out under Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s proposed ‘1984’ amendments to create a brave, new, Speak-Easy world of proposed anti-discrimination (A-D) laws.
The first thing that comes to mind is that “Juliar” is offensive to some… but an example of free speech we ought to retain for those who don’t like the lady. If you said the word to Ms Gillard’s face, she might take you to court under proposed A-D laws for she would surely find it personally offensive.
Do we have a right to be offensive towards our Prime Ministers? I hope so, for they often offend many of us by their cross words!
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Human beings can be offended in a myriad weird and wonderful ways. I recently learned that to describe someone morbidly obese as fat is ‘fattist’ and that it’s a no-no to describe someone as suffering from HIV, instead of as someone living with HIV, for example.
We’ve all heard examples of political correctness gone MAD; the phrase itself is so hackneyed that some may find it a bit offensive. And actually we probably shouldn’t use the word ‘mad’, that’s quite likely to offend people with mental health issues. Problems. Disorders. People living with mental health challenges. Consumers of mental health services.
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The cyber world celebrated last week following the Labor Government’s supposed ‘back-down’ on its mandatory internet filter proposal. Instead of imposing its own ‘clean feed’, the Government has begun issuing notices to require ISPs to filter a more limited Interpol ‘worst of the worst’ list. However, this change leaves a lot to be worried about.
We should be worried that the Government is using an obscure section of the Telecommunications Act - originally passed by parliament in 1997, ten years before Labor first took the policy to an election - to avoid legislative scrutiny.
We should be worried that the Government is still forcing ISPs to block a list of web address, with the major change pertaining to who writes the list.
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The $40,000 fine dished out to rugby player Quade Cooper for calling the Wallabies setup “toxic” is a huge penalty. It really is a massive slug for what was essentially a thought crime.
Wayne Carey was never fined $40k for screwing a team-mate’s wife. Rugby league player Nate Myles was never fined $40k for pooing in a hotel corridor (though his club copped a hefty fine), and Simon Katich was never fined $40k for questioning the manner of his dumping from the Test team.
There’s actually a strong similarity between the situations of Katich last year and Cooper in mid 2012. Both were echoing the sentiment of ordinary fans across Australia that the goons running the show were stuffed. In Katich’s case, that meant cricket’s national selection panel. In Cooper’s case, it mostly meant Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
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A right to delete? More like a responsibility to not say something stupid.
Over my years of online activity I have made my fair share of remarks that retrospectively I regret. This has been the price of growing up in the Internet age and beginning my digital journey well before my teens.
However, there is simply no way to delete the past or undo who I was. Ultimately, I must take responsibility for my actions, and take steps to change my behaviour in the future. I should not depend on government to protect me from my own stupidity.
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Julian Assange can never stay out of the headlines for long, and if last night’s strong ratings on Channel Ten are any indication, people can’t get enough of him.
The Wikileaks founder is reportedly planning to sue Prime Minister Julia Gillard for defamation over her assertion that Wikileaks has engaged in illegal activity.
On one level, you have to agree with Assange. The Prime Minister has been unable to point to a single law that Wikileaks has broken.
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Many people will be familiar with the recent “Aboriginal memes” page on a popular social media site, in which images of Aboriginal people were published with highly derogatory captions.
At the Race Discrimination Commission we heard from many outraged Australians who found the images appalling and who recognised the harm and the hurt they caused a group of people on the basis of their race.
A question I have been asked in my capacity as Commissioner is ‘where do you draw the line’ and make such behaviour unlawful, as opposed to simply treating it as in extremely poor taste?
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The proposed mass sackings at the Fairfax media group and the apparently sinister arrival of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart on the company’s board have triggered some strange and disturbing contributions from Canberra this week. The strangest came from Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis who made the straight-faced claim that the carbon tax was to blame for the 1900 Fairfax redundancies.
It seems that there’s a link between rising world temperatures, the introduction of a tax on polluters, and the shift from a robust print readership to a less lucrative digital model. The science behind it is fascinating, and hopefully George will pop up on Quantum soon to draw a diagram explaining it all on the back of a beer coaster.
At least Brandis was only making a fool of himself. Others in the Parliament used the arrival of the dastardly Rinehart to float some remarkably stupid policy ideas which would make fools of us all, and leave Australia a free speech laughing stock. Unsurprisingly these calls have been put with the most force by those with an axe to grind against the media, on account of the media’s pesky habit of rightly highlighting their own past foolishness.
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Imagine if the above headline was: “In support of the wholesale slaughter of babies.”
Examine your reaction to it. Your reaction is the problem.
Now, there are only two credible reactions to reading something like this. One is that it’s some kind of poorly-focused black humour, that the author is being deliberately provocative (and not very funny). The other is visceral moral outrage. The very idea that we should do such a thing.
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The biggest slap in my five months of house arrest came not at the start when the magistrate said he wanted to make it “as much like jail” as he could. It came only days from the end, at the hands of an elderly hospital volunteer, on one of my rare excursions into the real world.
As I walked into the foyer of the Austin Hospital for a check-up to see how my newly transplanted liver was behaving, the beaming, bespectacled old-timer asked how I was doing.
I said: “I feel great. Only 12 more days and I’m out of jail.” His mocking, condescending reply: “You weren’t in jail.” I felt like saying: “You try it, sunshine.”
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I was absolutely intrigued by Sophie Mirabella’s attack on the growing “Occupy Wall Street” movement yesterday. In case you missed it, she basically dismissed these peaceful protesters as nothing more than a bunch of angry, anti-capitalist losers, looking to place the cost of their own failings into the hands of others:
“…There’s a strange dichotomy about this movement. These “occupiers” want other people to earn less, while presumably they are supported by the Government or benevolent families so they can spend their days creating sanitation problems in the street rather than earning a living themselves.
“They want other people to pay for their “free” college education. They want to hold others to account for the way they believe the world has failed them. There is an underlying sense of entitlement that just jars with the “other people are greedy bastards” protest.
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It’s easy to defend free speech when you support a speaker’s views. It’s harder when you oppose them. Now, after the ruling in the Bolt case, free speech champions – even those who dislike and disagree with Andrew Bolt – should be speaking out.
They line up, to the right and to the left, the self-appointed arbiters of political and societal fashion, the media commentariat. From their pulp pulpits they lay down how we ordinary Australians should think. Their words today are the gospels of tomorrow, regurgitated in dozens of accents and emphases throughout workplaces, bars and coffee shops as well and re-broadcast by phone, email and Twitter.
The best known is Alan Jones, motor mouth of the airwaves, syndicated nationally on commercial radio, hard-core conservative. But there are a dozen or two others, in newspapers and on radio and TV, of various political shades. Most of the time, the harsh pronouncements wash us by, grating and irritating in equal measure on either side of public debate. But occasionally they hit the mark, roughly on target: a surge of public opinion forces focused governments to respond to what appears to be the will of the people.
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Earlier this year a mate and I drove 300km across North Carolina to have a pork sandwich. The town of Lexington is the capital of what our American friends call “barbecue” –slow-cooked, shredded pork shoulder served with a vinegary chilli sauce and coleslaw. You can feel your heart slowing down as you eat it and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Heading west from Lexington, towards the hillbilly heartland of the Appalachian Mountains, we saw a huge billboard on the side of one of the backroads.
It said: “You are now entering Klan Country” and bore the swastika-inspired logo of the Ku Klux Klan and a huge Confederate Flag.
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