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Free speech? Free-ish maybe…

By 12 August 2014 14

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A very long time ago when I was starting out in radio one of the old hands told me sadly that even though we had access to a moderately powerful transmitter, there were many important things that needed be said but could never be heard on the home receiver because “they” wouldn’t allow it.

Whether that was true or it was simply a poor grasp of the possibilities of the medium preventing my dispirited colleague from getting the word out is something for which there is still no definitive answer.

But when it comes to what we can and can’t say in a public forum, anyone who thinks an Australian politician in opposition promising “free speech” or its first cousin “transparency in government” will live up to either of those noble sentiments once they’re elected is almost always doomed to disappointment.

I have put this exact proposition to opposition leaders in the past and received stiff and frosty responses along the lines of “That may have been the case with other governments, Mike, but with us it will be different”.

Invariably it is not.

Prime Minister Abbott claims the reason he’s caved on 18C is because he doesn’t want to jeopardise “National unity”.

This is a slight variation on the reason usually given when a previously tough talking opposition but now frightened government welshs on its pre-election promise: “We find we can’t do it, because it wouldn’t be in the National/State interest”.

“National/State interest” is of course code for “Our career interest”.

Rumblings are that the repeal or even re-drafting of the legislation is just too contentious for nervous backbenchers worried about their maybe one time majorities.

I am a little surprised at some of the politicians who have abandoned anonymity to tell us what they think: Zed Seselja for example, who wants delay not change.

From what I recall of our exchanges when I was in Canberra on 2CC I would have thought the Senator was rather more small “l” liberal than his position now suggests.

In any event the government has had more than enough time to get it right – they could have addressed the issue last time around.

Fact is we’ve never had free speech as such in Australia.

I have a theory that’s why we’ve produced such good political cartoonists over the years – much funnier and sharper than the Americans and about on a par with the English.

In the US, where they really do have free speech, it’s not necessary to be oblique when it comes to making your point – you can just come right out and say it.

Here we can (could?) get away with more than the PC crowd want to allow if that point is carried with genuine humour.

I recall a case years ago where a New South Wales Premier sued a radio announcer for defamation.
When the offending tape was played in court, the jury laughed.

If the plaintiff didn’t realise at that moment his case would fail, he should have.
You’ll notice I used the description “radio announcer”.

Stephen Mayne, the originator of Crikey, once referred to me as a “shock jock” and then went on to write “Sorry Mike, but ‘radio announcer’ is just too boring”.

I take his point – “shock jock” does hold a lot more promise for the listener than plain old “radio announcer”.

But for the record, there are no “shock jocks” as such in this country.

The term has become completely divorced from its original meaning and become a lazy pejorative most often applied to a broadcaster with whose opinions the speaker disagrees: the implication is that the individual in question makes outrageous statements purely for effect and has no real credibility.

The phrase “shock jock” was coined by a Washington journalist for a man named Howard Stern who went on to make millions pushing the envelope on the broadcast airwaves and who can still be heard on subscription satellite radio.

Howard once said his success was down to featuring lesbians performing soft porn on his show.

On another occasion he claimed to have the most carefully honed collection of penis jokes in American broadcasting.

I give those small examples while avoiding some of the comments Howard has made over the years which we in this country would find truly shocking to illustrate that the shock jock concept had a lot more to do with outraging America’s puritan sensibilities than it did with analysing politics.

Of course when it comes to bawdy humour, there’s plenty to be found, if not on broadcast radio then certainly on subscription TV.

Censorship of that sort of material is almost non-existent compared to when I started out in media.
But as for freedom to discuss the real issues that make a difference to our day and where this country is headed, we’re going backwards.

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14 Responses to Free speech? Free-ish maybe…
#1
Grail1:03 pm, 12 Aug 14

Sorry to hear that not being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion is holding back your potential as a radio presenter.

#2
HenryBG4:18 pm, 12 Aug 14

Either insulting people is legal or it isn’t. Making some insults illegal and not others is not the sign of a reasonable law.

#3
gazket4:18 pm, 12 Aug 14

Grail said :

Sorry to hear that not being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion is holding back your potential as a radio presenter.

getting rid of 18C wasn’t about being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion. That’s what the Labor commies, Greens and lefty do gooders turned it into. A Racist law.

Repealing 18C is about letting people have their say and not being threatened with being sued or arrested. If a person can’t point out a negative on race or religion for fear of arrest how can things be improved.

#4
shauno5:18 pm, 12 Aug 14

18c is very dangerous. It allows a minority of people to use the law to stop some one publishing or talking even if its the view of the majority. Its only selectively used though by groups that want the speech suppressed. Those who champion free speech do not use 18c for the simple fact they believe in free speech and do not want to suppress another groups view. Believing correctly that the if the view is objectionable public opinion will judge it correctly.

#5
Masquara6:04 pm, 12 Aug 14

I agree with Mike. The risk of being “offended” by free speech, without recourse other than to argue back, goes with the territory, and in a decent society good standards prevail. Race hate and vilification are already actionable without 18C.

#6
dungfungus6:30 pm, 12 Aug 14

“But for the record, there are no “shock jocks” as such in this country”.
Well, I suppose with the recent demise of Mike Carlton that would be correct.

#7
justin heywood8:03 pm, 12 Aug 14

dungfungus said :

“But for the record, there are no “shock jocks” as such in this country”.
Well, I suppose with the recent demise of Mike Carlton that would be correct.

Yes, interesting that in this country a ‘shock-jock’ is almost always a perforative term used against more conservative commentators (with apologies to Mike Jeffries). Carlton was at least as outspoken as John Laws, and John Faine barely holds back. Even the excellent Phillip Adams said some pretty outrageous things, especially in his younger days. But the chattering classes would never label them shock-jocks.

I think shock-jocks and other outspoken media commentators are healthy for a democracy. They encourage debate and give voice to alternative views. Using 18c to censure Andrew Bolt was a mistake. For many it simply encouraged the perception that ‘incorrect’ thinking would be punished, not that he was wrong.

You will win a lot more converts to your cause if you argue your case rather than try to shut down the debate.

#8
rosscoact8:49 pm, 12 Aug 14

This is great, a bunch of middle-aged, middle class white guys complaining that they are hard done by because they can’t intimidate and humiliate the minorities.

Dashed impertinence of the parliamentary blighters. Would have them given a damned good thrashing if it wasn’t for my gammy knee.

#9
Grail8:15 am, 13 Aug 14

HenryBG said :

Either insulting people is legal or it isn’t. Making some insults illegal and not others is not the sign of a reasonable law.

When employing people, you’re allowed to discriminate based on ability to do the job. You’re not allowed to discriminate based on race, gender or religion.

Are anti-discrimination laws unreasonable?

#10
justin heywood9:00 am, 13 Aug 14

Grail said :

HenryBG said :

When employing people, you’re allowed to discriminate based on ability to do the job. You’re not allowed to discriminate based on race, gender or religion.

Are anti-discrimination laws unreasonable?

Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are not unreasonable. But we’re not talking about employment, are we. We’re talking about what people are allowed to say, a different thing entirely.

(and in fact you are able to discriminate based on race, but in a way that won’t help your argument)

#11
watto2311:55 am, 13 Aug 14

gazket said :

Grail said :

Sorry to hear that not being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion is holding back your potential as a radio presenter.

getting rid of 18C wasn’t about being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion. That’s what the Labor commies, Greens and lefty do gooders turned it into. A Racist law.

Repealing 18C is about letting people have their say and not being threatened with being sued or arrested. If a person can’t point out a negative on race or religion for fear of arrest how can things be improved.

You can still say what you want about a race or religion if it is factual and true, or you have evidence to support your claim. The Alan Jones and Andrew Bolts of the world rarely use facts though and try to use their opinion to push an incorrect non-factual belief onto society.

Shame I can’t sue for their poor lack of knowledge regarding the NBN. That was downright offensive to those of us intelligent enough to understand the technology.

Its clear to me those that are for changing 18C want to say things that are not true about a race or religion and just their own distorted opinion often based around spreading fear or hate.

#12
Mysteryman1:45 pm, 13 Aug 14

watto23 said :

gazket said :

Grail said :

Sorry to hear that not being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion is holding back your potential as a radio presenter.

getting rid of 18C wasn’t about being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion. That’s what the Labor commies, Greens and lefty do gooders turned it into. A Racist law.

Repealing 18C is about letting people have their say and not being threatened with being sued or arrested. If a person can’t point out a negative on race or religion for fear of arrest how can things be improved.

You can still say what you want about a race or religion if it is factual and true, or you have evidence to support your claim. The Alan Jones and Andrew Bolts of the world rarely use facts though and try to use their opinion to push an incorrect non-factual belief onto society.

Shame I can’t sue for their poor lack of knowledge regarding the NBN. That was downright offensive to those of us intelligent enough to understand the technology.

Its clear to me those that are for changing 18C want to say things that are not true about a race or religion and just their own distorted opinion often based around spreading fear or hate.

I’m astounded that you’re actually defending such a poorly thought out piece of legislation, and in such a sensationalist way. Spreading fear and hate? Pushing beliefs onto society? Please. They are sharing opinions – nothing more. The same way you come on here and share yours. I suspect their opinions are at the very least as factual as yours are.

18C is a stupid clause, drafted without regard to the consequences it would have on what is a fundamental part of modern life in a democratic nation; the ability to express one’s opinion. We tend to refer to this as “free speech”. Amazing that people would actually defend this.

rosscoact said :

This is great, a bunch of middle-aged, middle class white guys complaining that they are hard done by because they can’t intimidate and humiliate the minorities.

Congratulations. You’re now likely in breech of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sect 18C. Still think it’s a good law?

#13
dungfungus1:48 pm, 13 Aug 14

watto23 said :

gazket said :

Grail said :

Sorry to hear that not being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion is holding back your potential as a radio presenter.

getting rid of 18C wasn’t about being allowed to insult people based on their race or religion. That’s what the Labor commies, Greens and lefty do gooders turned it into. A Racist law.

Repealing 18C is about letting people have their say and not being threatened with being sued or arrested. If a person can’t point out a negative on race or religion for fear of arrest how can things be improved.

You can still say what you want about a race or religion if it is factual and true, or you have evidence to support your claim. The Alan Jones and Andrew Bolts of the world rarely use facts though and try to use their opinion to push an incorrect non-factual belief onto society.

Shame I can’t sue for their poor lack of knowledge regarding the NBN. That was downright offensive to those of us intelligent enough to understand the technology.

Its clear to me those that are for changing 18C want to say things that are not true about a race or religion and just their own distorted opinion often based around spreading fear or hate.

I don’t agree with anything you have said and I hope you are offended.

#14
justin heywood2:45 pm, 13 Aug 14

watto23 said :

….Its clear to me those that are for changing 18C want to say things that are not true about a race or religion and just their own distorted opinion often based around spreading fear or hate.

Wow, and thanks. I bet you put a lot of thought into that.

And from this and your other posts it’s clear to me that in your view, pretty much all that is wrong with Australia – race relations, NBN, same sex marriage, environment etc. – is the fault of the Liberals.

Why bother writing stuff? You could just cut and paste ‘The Libs done it’ into every post.

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