‘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.

 

 

Human Rights, 8 Commissioners & 18C’s

There seems to be a lot of noise and discussion about repealing or overhauling Section 18C because of claims that it restricts freedom of speech and also diminishes the right to a fair trial.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for someone to do an act that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.

It seems to me that perhaps the problem isn’t so much with the law but rather the bureaucrats at the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who allow the ‘intent of the law’ to be abused by entertaining vexatious complaints. The AHRC misguidedly believe they are instigating audacious actions against Australia’s vilest bigots and racists, who are in their opinion a couple of young honest university students in Queensland and a  respected Cartoonist/Artist. The AHRC clearly don’t get outback much!

The AHRC mustn’t have much to do if these cases are the absolute worst racial discrimination injustices in Australia needing prosecution. Their actions actually diminish the integrity of 18C, and I question how they justify their existence: whether taxpayers are getting value for money; whether the AHRC is contributing to the betterment of our society and whether these bureaucrats are meeting the public’s expectations?

So what is really going on out there? The head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Nyunggai Warren Mundine’s recent article in The Australian details the crimes being committed against indigenous women and children, violent physical assault, death and abuse perpetrated against people who cannot protect themselves. Yet we continue to tolerate inept bureaucratic ‘Government Agencies’, like the stewards at the AHRC, who fail in their responsibilities to protect the human rights of truly vulnerable Australians.

That is why the spurious actions of the AHRC have the effect of diluting the efficacy of 18C; suppressing debate on the real injustices occurring in remote indigenous communities and empowering the predators and abusers who perpetrate despicable assaults/crimes against indigenous women and children.

The contemptible indignity of it is that while indigenous women are being brutally beaten to death, the Australian Human Rights Commission is preoccupied with people who have had their ‘feelings hurt’…shameful!

To add insult to bereavement, taxpayers fund the AHRC to the extent of approx. $23,000,000.00 p.a. The average remuneration of an AHRC employees is approx. $140,000.00 p.a. so you can see that the ‘fat cats’ certainly look after themselves and you can also understand why there is no money left for the victims of the real injustices perpetrated against indigenous communities.

Why does the AHRC muzzle the truth by suppressing debate and shutting down free speech, which has the effect of continuing to deny traditional Australians their basic Human Rights?

1st November 2016.