Freedom of speech? Not if it offends the boss!

May 3rd, 2015  |  Published in Power & Politics

Freedom of speech is always a hot topic, particularly in relation to the media, and particularly on WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY (3 May) the theme of which for 2015 is “Let Journalism Thrive”.

Given that, today strikes me as a good time to talk about Scott gaggedMcIntyre, who was sacked as a journalist from SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) for tweets on Anzac Day that so offended Malcolm Turnbull MP that he rang Scott’s boss to alert him.

Bingo, Scott was out of a job. No thriving for him, and no help from Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, either, who somehow figured it wasn’t a matter of freedom of speech. It wasn’t political interference on Malcolm T’s part either, he assures us, because he didn’t TELL Scott’s boss to sack him. He just passed the information on!

Similar story with the $8000 for a visa to Nauru. That’s not freepolitical interference either. There’s no BAN on access, if journalists just pay up! Not the government’s problem if they refuse to do so and hence can’t keep an eye on what’s going on in the detention camps!

Back to Scott M’s tweets: the thing is they must have offended his boss, as well as Malcolm T, or at least been seen to bring SBS into disrepute. Interesting, especially considering the things Andrew Bolt, for example, gets away with. Guess his boss (the charming Rupert Murdoch) doesn’t find them offensive.

All pretty subjective, and makes it pretty hairy to be a journalist, wouldn’t you say? To have a job about exposing abuses of power, which risks offending those in power, who then have the power to sack you. Must be a name for that sort of jeopardy.

Such freedom of speech as we have under Australian law, explains Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission, is qualified by numerous exceptions, including BREACH OF AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT.

So, Scott doesn’t have much redress. Too bad, they say. Suck it up, they say. Not good enough, I say, and I’ll leave it to (a younger) John Pilger to explain why in his quote in the image below (for which I thank @Biggy1883).

pilger via @Biggy1883

Scroll down to leave your comments…Joan Beckwith

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2 comments on “Freedom of speech? Not if it offends the boss!”

  1. Roger, thank you for your comments – about the need for a Bill of Rights, the myth that we currently have freedom of speech, the relationship between freedom and responsibility, the shift from democracy to oligarchy, the politics of fear, the silencing of critical voices (in the media, the academy, and elsewhere), and the lack of distinction between the two major parties. Your thoughts echo my own in ways that are simultaneously eerie, reassuring, and disturbing. I do NOT find your reference to totalitarianism at all “ridiculous”. If only!
    I am embarrassed that your ‘comment’ is more substantial than my original piece. I normally take more time to collect links and threads, but when I became aware it was “World Press Freedom Day” (with its comforting theme about the importance to society of critical journalism and hence of safety for journalists) I wanted to put something together for the day; hence, it emerged a little half-baked.
    I agree that the situation for Scott McIntyre is a travesty of justice for him as an individual, but also that he represents a “canary down the mine” for the rest of us; one that we ignore at our peril. I wish there were more ways of raising general awareness.
    Joan Beckwith.

  2. Roger Hawcroft says:

    “Freedom of speech” is something that most Australians take for granted, believing it to be a right and both an essential and basic constituent of our democracy. In fact, of course, Australians have very few, if any, “rights” other than those that arise from specific legislation. Our Constitution is hopelessly outdated and inadequate for the non-colonial nation that should be the Australia of today. A Bill of Rights is most certainly something that we need, in addition to Constitutional change.

    It is a myth that we have “freedom of speech” or even “freedom of expression”. We have defamation laws which limit what can be said or written “freely” about another and censorship laws that classify and restrict, even ban what we are allowed to hear, see, read and do. We also have other legislation which impacts on what can be said, published or otherwise made public, such as the Racial Discrimination Act. Some of this legislation is well motivated or intended but all of it, by definition, will impact to some degree on individual freedom of expression.

    There can be no freedom without responsibility and, as such, there can never be total freedom for it must always be limited by that responsibility when the freedom is exercised. Unfortunately, history tends to indicate that there will always be those that will abuse freedoms and exercise them without responsibility or care for those that their actions or behaviour might hurt or harm. In a democracy, our answer to this is to elect representatives to organise our social structures and impose a rule of law such that all are treated equally under it and the weakest of us is availed of the same protection as the strongest.

    Sadly, our democracy is now most awfully tainted. Indeed, it seems to me that what we have is more of an oligarchy than a democracy. For at least the last 30 years a political and economic agenda has been pursued by governments of both persuasions that promotes class warfare by the most wealthy and privileged in society on the rest. In doing so, it deceives the majority into thinking that they are “middle-class” and demonises those most disadvantaged as being responsible for their own disadvantage. As such, it destroys a sense of community, inculcates selfish individualism and materialism, and ensures that wealth is re-distributed from the mass of the people to the top few percent.

    A significant part of this process is the limitation of civil liberties, including freedom of speech and expression. As a result, we have governments acting in concert with the privileged and wealthy to pervert the messages that people receive and to silence or stifle the opportunities of those who dissent with their practices or expose actual travesties of justice, incidences of corruption or other improper behaviour or actions that detriment society rather than benefitting it.

    This current government has cynically exploited warfare and incidences of violent civil disobedience and revolution around the world to inculcate an ethos of fear in our community which it then uses to justify the introduction of legislation which severely inhibits or even curtails civil liberties. In my view, the average citizen is uncritically accepting of these measures and either not well enough informed, not sufficiently educated, or too complacent to really examine the issues and understand the extent of their implications for our society. That we continue to have a Prime Minister who has clearly lied continually to the public and whose government has attempted to introduce the most draconian assaults on civil liberties and attacks on the under-privileged and disadvantaged, is evidence enough that my view can’t be too far from the truth, if at all.

    The attacks on our public broadcasters are a deliberate attempt to curtail any real questioning and examination of the culture promoted by the neb-liberalist political economy of the last 30 years. The recent unnecessary introduction of wide-ranging and immoral security powers that provide unprecedented power to even low-ranking security officers to detain and interrogate, without charge or evidence. As though that weren’t indecent enough, these powers also provide for lengthy prison sentences for publication of matters that some nameless individual in government employment decides are such as to promote “terrorism” or expose matters prejudicial to national security. In reality, these laws – approved by both major parties – turn our nation into a police state where only the very bravest will be willing to stand out and challenge the government of the day or its agencies – let alone actually attempt to investigate and expose actions that are *not* in the public interest – though claimed to be so by those in power.

    It would be bad enough were this to be action controlled by politicians who actually acknowledged that, in a democracy, the power should lay with the people and their representatives should carry out the wishes of the people – not impose their own wishes upon those they purport to represent. Our current government clearly fails to understand this “bottom-up” principle of democracy. Indeed it is clear that our current government favours wealth and privilege at the expense of the average person. It is clear that what our government decides to do is very much subject to the influence of large corporations and business leaders and no longer sees itself as beholden to the people it is supposed to serve.

    Accountability of our governments has been eroded by these continual attacks on civll liberties and increase in power of police and security institutions that clearly have become instruments of leverage in imposing government policy, rather than protectors of the public, as they should be. We are fed the notion that our governments are accountable because they have to stand for election. In fact, this is a Furphy. Our, effectively, two party political system actually limits the opportunity for all areas of community opinion to gain expression. That is one reason why both major political parties are so opposed to the advent of minor parties gaining traction in the Senate, let alone winning seats in the Lower House. Worse still, however, is that both major parties support the political economy of neo-liberalism that represses us. There may be minor differences in accent or priority of general policy areas but fundamentally there is subscription to the same manner of operation and the driving motivation is to obtain and stay in power – not to serve.

    For these reasons, the pressure that was exerted recently to have the SBS sack a presenter for having expressed opinions on Twitter that caused the ire of a government minister, represent much more than a travesty of justice for that individual. The incident is indicative of a malaise in our system that threatens the freedom of each and every citizen and which moves this nation one step closer to an autocratic state in which only one political stance is countenanced. This is the stuff that most of us associate only with hard-line, totalitarian or single party states such as the old Soviet Union or China or North Korea. Some will even say that my suggestion of it is ridiculous. It isn’t.

    Censorship is a weapon common to every totalitarian regime that the World has known, from the sacking of the Great Library of Alexandria to Hitler’s burning of the books and Mao’s cultural revolution and attacks on academics and intellectuals. These events are a warning that we need to heed.

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