Monday, November 7, 2011

Media Regulation: What A Crew!

AFTER Martin Hirst, pride of Deakin, has trotted out before the Press Inquiry his rationale for applying the gag, the big show will continue with a trio high-profile witnesses, each with his own dubious motive. Stephen Mayne’s is, as always, to get some attention for Stephen Mayne, which might make for an interesting competition, as fellow witness Bundoora Bob has never been known to open his mouth for any but the same reason. If Wayne Swan hopes to preserve that highly unlikely move to a surplus he keeps talking about (and is today talking down), a quick tax on the first-person pronoun would see the budget pushed firmly back into the black by the end of tomorrow’s hearings. (For the curious, Andrew Bolt has more on Mayne and the mysterious bureaucrat who invited him and why.)

Crikey's Eric Beecher, by contrast, is likely to be singing for his supper. A keen advocate of the peculiar notion that incompetent and failing newspapers, like the Age, must be preserved at all costs, he is especially keen to see those costs borne largely by the taxpayer. The fact that Beecher is sometimes referenced as a potential acquirer of Fairfax, or parts of Fairfax, should not be allowed to colour his audience’s perceptions with suspicions of self-interest. If he argues for subsidies, it will be solely as a means to save such invaluable thinkers as Laura Tingle, Butch Carlton, A Dill Horin and blonde economics writer Jessica Irvine from doing their reporting to Centrelink.

The key witness, the one who really needs watching, will come at day's end. She is Professor of Law at the Parkville Asylum Adrienne Stone, another of those who believe free speech should not be, well, free. In talking to the ABC about the same law later used to lynch Andrew Bolt, here is how she summed up the need for authorities to keep the gag handy. Read it carefully and marvel at her circular argument’s hermetically sealed, self-referential logic:
Perhaps freedom of expression, a true commitment to freedom of expression, would require us to tolerate that material that freedom of expression means freedom for the thought that we hate.

I have to say that although I'm sympathetic to what I take to be the sentiment behind that idea, I think that there is a better understanding of freedom of expression available to us, and one that doesn't see a very strong philosophical kind of inconsistency between, on the one hand, a commitment to freedom of expression and on the other hand, an anti-vilification law. Because it seems to me that there's a good argument to say that this kind of highly offensive, untrue material—levelled at someone because of their race, ethnicity or religion, or some other like characteristic—that it's neither valuable in free speech terms...and indeed it might even undermine those values which freedom of expression is directed to. So in fact I think the best argument, our best understanding of freedom of expression would accommodate laws of this kind.
So they are the main voices likely to dominate the witness box – an old Trot, a short wanker, a tall wanker, a rent-seeker and an academic who supports freedom of speech except she doesn’t.

If you are not obliged to play golf on Tuesday, why not turn up? Up until now, we have not had too many show trials in Australia. Tomorrow will bring a little taste of what to expect if this lot gets its way.    


  1. Thank you for doing the research on this subject and other ones. If we had a press that was worth a pinch of rocking horse shit you would have more time for golf.

  2. I get it, in order to protect freedom of expression we must place restrictions on freedom of expression lest freedom of expression is undermined.

  3. Amazing, ain't it! and while we must have freedom of speech the "better understanding" is to accept and endorse that we can't have it because "it seems to me" some free speech isn't "valuable".

    I don't find Phillip Adams particularly "valuable" and the weekend's column -- how to enslave illegal aliens if we can't kill them first -- was an exercise in gross bad taste. Well, you get where this is going....

  4. And who's to say what's "untrue" esp. before it's heard or published?

    Lightweight, I believe, is the appropriate descriptor here.

  5. PhillipGeorge(c)2011November 7, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    Karl Popper [more than a pinch of rocking horse excreta] dealt with tolerating intolerance - the logical inevitability being the destruction of tolerance.

    Unmitigated diversity is absurd. Nebulous pluralism, and featureless multiculturalism, similarly absurd propositions.

    The dozen most important words I've read in the past five years were Martin Amis' "stupefied by relativism" and Melanie Phillips' "baffling incoherence of the west".

    the above quote "untrue material—levelled at someone because of their race, ethnicity or religion, or some other like characteristic—that it's neither valuable in free speech terms."

    firstly, what is like "race"?
    secondly, what is like "ethnicity"?

    thirdly, what is like "religion"?

    and this is dealing only with 'untrue' representations? What about true accusations about "race, ethnicity, sex, and religion"?

    if women really do, on average, have uteri and bear some social responsibility for gestation?

    If Islam really is "untrue"?

    I hold to the resurrection of Jesus Christ like I do a commitment to breathing; to helping my children survive and prosper, to feeding myself and pet beagle.

    As much as I believe in the resurrection a pack of usurpers believe it did not take place. Both of us could be wrong. But it is impossible for us both to be right.

    The Bible and Islam are mutually exclusive with respect to foundational documentation.

    If this is the end of Western Civilization then just admit it. Don't pretend it has a future inside of some logical impossibility.

    If Jesus rose from the dead, celebrate that. If He did - condemn Islamic claims for overtly denying the historical realities.

    Not all religions can be equally true; honesty and intellectual integrity demand condemnation of factual untruths.

    The choice comes at a price.

    But honour is looking more and more like rocking horse manure.

    look at the photo---

    this is about a time when integrity, honour, valor, virtue and nobility had meaning
    - certain meaning. Certain enough to die for.

    Is there a single man in Australia who would loose a night's sleep defending the "honour" of the current Prime Minister?

  6. You're spot on about Mayne, Professor.
    If the ABC stopped giving an unbelievable amount of air time to this self-obsessed, self-promoting, irrelevant clown he would disappear without trace.
    He has hijacked The Australian Shareholders' Association and is diminishing its standing by running a personal vendetta against News Corporation.
    The only people missing from tomorrow's line up are the other Murdoch-haters; Hamilton, Windsor and Guthrie

  7. I am not a journalist but (I think) a keen observer and when I see this stuff about our J-School academics (and many other acdemics actually) I don't wonder why people who ARE journalists say 'stay away' from such schools. I find the Margaret Simons stories about her 'professionalism' quite amusing, look at David McKnight and, of course Wendy Bacon but when you add Hirst to the lineup (with his censorship by government action feelings) you realise what a mess journalism is in thanks to these academics.

    As for Hirst himself, how could anyone in a quasi-judicial process such as a supposed "Independent" Media Inquiry consider having him as a witness? How could he have any credibility?

    "Media Studies" would appear to have as much credibility and acadsemic merit as the degrees in ceramics at other Claytons universities.

    M Ryutin Sydney

  8. By the way, you weren't wrong about Eric Beecher 'singing for his supper' in an ask for taxpayer dollars. His submission is now published.

    M Ryutin Sydney

  9. I dont want to intrude too much with my reading, but if I can be forgiven, a surprising (to me, due to my old-fashioned theories about lawyers wanting more and more work for themselves) the Law Council of Australia has the most

    M Ryutin

  10. Remember when Lefties used to be in favor of free speech?

    “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the evil to be prevented is a serious one.

    “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

    -US Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Whitney v. California, 1927

  11. If America banned anyone from participating in "distasteful" or "offensive" speech, we wouldn't have one of my favorite scenes from The Blues Brothers.

    "I hate Illinois Nazis."

  12. Professor Stone appears to have as her life's ambition to become a contortionist of the English language. In doing so, she brutalises and debases the concept of clarity of meaning, while proudly proclaiming herself as one of the totalitarian elite who would rule us all.

    I despair to see such a person training the next generation of legal eagles. Perhaps following an Abbott victory, she could be eased sideways into the directorship of a faculty of postmodern philosophy? She would do far less harm there, and could continue to squirt out her odious verbal diarrhoea while at the same time shoving her head so far up her posterior as to see the back of her teeth.

  13. "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

    "When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer."

    George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

  14. Stone argues that because (what in her view is)
    "highly offensive, untrue material" "might even undermine those values which freedom of expression is directed to", it should be proscribed and its author and publisher punished. Noting the "might", this applies the precautionary principle to justify restraint of speech, and is more suited to a totalitarian mode of thinking than to one that takes free speech seriously. Adrienne Stone should feel ashamed of herself.

  15. “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women."

    She might be a witch. Burn her just in case.

  16. 1. Where is this inquiry? Why have I not been asked to put in my 2 bob's worth? ( I want to say that the ABC has gone to the hogs)>
    2. Prof! ..."referenced.." . Oh no! Are you a left-wing plant?? If not, how can you so carelessly butcher our grammar? Might I propose "referred to" as a better phrase?
    Nil bastardi carborundum.

  17. Sounds a lot easier to get the communists out of our lives . This is an insult to everyone who died protecting our freedom , you should be ashamed of yourselves .

  18. Thomas the Tout, how can you so brutally butcher Latin? Try this:
      ne nothi te terant.

  19. I discuss Beecher’s call for “quality journalism” here.

  20. Thank you Deadman. Your phrase is more elegant.
    How can I butcher Latin (shamelessly)? Probably because I am a Solicitor, and for centuries the Law has used 'dog-latin'. I think we use it mainly for show rather than for clarity of communication.
    I shall enter your suggestion in my reference manual (!)