‘Free Speech’ – It’s Not As Easy As ABC

My take on Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s Anzac Day social media post and why ‘freedom’ does not necessarily entitle you to ‘free speech’:

Most Australians are aware that in the past century over 100,000 of our countrymen gave their lives in our defence and to preserve the freedoms we value and enjoy today. Australians also understand the veneration we hold for those who served, the fallen, their sacrifice and that the Anzac tradition is sacrosanct. (See also: ‘Aussie Battlers, Flu Pandemic, Headache, Heatwaves & Hardship’).

(I say most Australians, as  I assumed it would be safe to include someone like Yassmin, who arrived in Australia at the age of 2, who is now 26 years old, well-educated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with honours from the University of Queensland.)

What I would like to know is why some Australians choose to confuse the ‘freedoms’ won by the Anzacs with an entitlement for ‘free speech’? How could that be when ‘free speech’ is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint? All expressions and opinions actually come with enormous responsibilities and consequences, particularly if you fail to comply with the law or if you violate society’s standards in relation to causing ‘offense’. (In fact, the noun ‘free speech’ has so many limitations that the title is virtually a misnomer.)

Of particular offense to me is when I read claims that ‘our diggers died’ so that we can exercise ‘freedom of speech’ to publish offensive material disrespecting the same Anzacs who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom. See ‘Yassmin Abdel-Magied says she was treated unfairly over her Anzac post’.

This type of odious subversion needs to be called out for what it is; Australia and New Zealand must continue to respectfully uphold and defend the tradition and memory of the Anzacs. Freedom is a Human Right that was fought for and won by the blood of our forefathers. It is the responsibility of this generation to defend it and in doing so, continue to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, with the reverence they so rightly deserve. ‘Freedom of speech’ on the other hand is something completely different and should not be confused with or used in the same context as ‘Freedom’, which in itself, is not completely free.

So, what makes a media presenter think they are entitled to post unfiltered offensive material and then claim unfair treatment as ‘the victim’ when publicly vilified? What makes them think that posting a ‘very quick’ apology (but not a retraction) negates the offense? ‘Freedom of expression’ or ‘free speech’ has always been subject to various forms of censorship, irrespective of the publishing platform, whether it’s a song banned from radio or a film rating or a time delay on live radio or television. The concept of filtering the media’s offensive behaviour with classifications or censorship is not new; the Australian Government Classification Board has been around for approx. half a century.

Then, of course, there is Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (See also ‘Human Rights, 8 Commissioners & 18C’s’). What do you need to ‘live under’ if you are not familiar with the well-publicised examples of censorship to free speech, where it has cause to offend under the Racial Discrimination Act? How could you work in the media and not have a sound knowledge of what constitutes ‘offence’ in a media publication, including social media releases? (Incidentally, a ‘very quick’ apology does not ‘cut the mustard’ when you offend under 18C either.)

The motivation behind the ‘Anzac Day post’ was possibly more about promoting one’s public profile. We live in the age of ‘celebrity’ where any media or publicity is considered ‘good publicity’ irrespective of the degree of offensiveness. Perhaps it was an orchestrated stunt, an attempt to create enough controversy to discourage the ABC from proceeding with its planned axing of the part-time presenter’s TV program (see ‘ABC axes Abdel-Magied program one month after controversy’).

I expect there may now be some consternation within the ABC as to whether the ‘axing decision’ could be spuriously linked to the consequences arising from the Anzac Day controversy, particularly given the potential weight or perceived influence attached to the ‘discrimination’ comments made by the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, while appearing before Senate estimates (see ‘Gillian Triggs warns of increasing sexist attacks against woman in public life’).

A check of Hansard (see ‘Commonwealth of Australia – Senate – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee’) reveals that Professor Triggs stated ‘My concern has been the rising level of discrimination against Muslims in Australia and, sadly, in particular, Muslim women wearing the hijab’. One wonders whether the ABC’s decision to axe Yasmin could be interpreted, construed, seen as, or possibly ‘feels like’ discrimination in some circles. Professor Triggs later went on to reiterate her earlier view that the Anzac Day post was a ‘mistake’ saying ‘Well, again, I think it was a mistake, as I have said. It was followed rapidly by an apology’.

To be clear, I do not condone discrimination and the abuse (as opposed to the fair criticisms) directed at Yassmin in the wake of her social media post. My demurring relates to the virtual trivialisation of the Anzac Day social media post by academics like Triggs, who dismissed it as a mere ‘mistake’ or at worst agreeing ‘that it was a most inappropriate thing to have said’, while the broader community clearly felt deep offense.

Of particular indignity is that it was an honoured Australian who dishonoured and disparaged the memory of fallen Soldiers, on of all days, Anzac Day and I can only extend a sincere apology to our New Zealand partners for the insensitive offense. To add insult, Yassmin has served as a member of the Federal ANZAC Centenary Commemoration Youth Working Group so I cannot be convinced that she did not know exactly what she was doing and I find it insulting and disingenuous to suggest that her ‘post’ should be dismissed as an inappropriate ‘mistake’. Who is really out of touch here?

So, given due consideration to the above, the question remains, how can you call the actions of a media-savvy individual, seeking wider self-promotion by publishing offensive material on a social media platform, a ‘mistake’ when the individual is employed in the media and is steeped in their conventions? What propaganda is this? This was no mistake! 

It is time for people to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions, actions that have consequences. People need to take ownership of their behaviour, ownership of what they say and what they do, particularly when they have the power of the media behind them. Dare I say it, but we need to exercise a little more courtesy, have some empathy and learn to be nicer to one another.

However, if you are going to radically court controversy, then stop playing ‘the victim’ when you get the notoriety you widely seek. Stop hiding behind discrimination as a means of preservation when your provocation goes wrong. Don’t point your finger claiming intolerance at those who ‘call you to account’ or suggest that they are bigots, sexist and racist just because they objected to your insensitive, insulting, disrespectful, intolerant, narrow-minded & purposefully offensive publication.

Don’t stomp on the grave of ANZAC to promote your personal agenda!

Lest We Forget.

26 May 2017

If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.  – Martin Luther King.

 

 

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Author: Gooriara

An old Australian bloke... sharing a few thoughts.

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