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September 28, 2011 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Controversial Australian newspaper columnist and television host Andrew Bolt has been found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act when he suggested in 2009 that "fаіr-skinned Aborigines identified themselves аѕ such fοr personal gain" (official court judgement). Andrew Bolt has responded, along with other writers claiming the ruling will "harm healthy debate" and "stile free speech". Commentary site Crikey has collected other responses and suggests that 'he may turn out to be the courtroom loser who wins the propaganda war'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (183 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The First Amendment is as wonderful as this guy is obnoxious.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:02 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


No, you got it right, LiB: Andrew Bolt has been found to have Racial Discrimination.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


The First Amendment is what lets Fox News blatantly lie in order to push their owner's political beliefs. In Australia you can't do that. Some of us like it that way although clearly most Americans are happier with their system, and that is fair enough. From the judge:

“The reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language,”

The legislation has protections for fair comment, but once he starting making stuff up he wasn't protected by that clause.
posted by markr at 8:15 PM on September 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


Powerful man gets told to stop telling lies. Powerful man (backed by Rupert Murdoch) professes to be "sad". Powerful man goes to nice restaurant and celebrates by ordering vintage champagne and lobster because he knows he will forever be a cause celebre of the wingnuts and has just got himself a lifelong meal ticket.
posted by awfurby at 8:20 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


e knows he will forever be a cause celebre of the wingnuts and has just got himself a lifelong meal ticket.

Dude writes a column for the best-selling paper in Oz, and has a mining magnate paying for his tv show, I don't think this "ticket" you speak of is a new thing for him.

This really isn't a free speech issue, per se. See here for my favourite break down.
posted by smoke at 8:26 PM on September 28, 2011


From smoke's link: No doubt the names of Voltaire and J. S. Mill are going to be tossed around in coming days by people who have probably never read them.

Cute. In what way, I wonder, is this sort of thing "speech that is accountable to truth" and/or "a willingness to ground one’s views in ascertainable and verifiable fact"?
posted by vorfeed at 8:31 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I donno if you could outlaw Fox News in the U.S. really, but maybe so. Our First Amendment is rather flexible when our politicians need flexibility.

There is an enormous benefit to society when the courts impose some limits upon the governments ability to suppress speech, anything that's really dangerous can still be outlawed, assuming that's what the politicians want.

In this case, America's right wing politicians have been crystal clear that want (a) no restrictions on the bullshit machine that gets them elected and (b) no investigations of right-wing terrorists it occasionally produces.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:34 PM on September 28, 2011


I just want to go on the record here as saying that "controversial" has lost all meaning and is an empty word signifying nothing. As for Bolt, he is a snide bloviator of the highest order, a deranged and foaming imbecile, spewing nonsense from his Bolt-hole under the pretence of concern, but really all he does is hate, without purpose and with no solutions. Nothing more than a hateful and dangerous man with the ears and eyes of millions. Which is a shame, because we are a young country and had a great opportunity to do things a little differently, a little better. But we're still all humans, and there's nothing more reassuring to a human than being afraid.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:40 PM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


From smoke's link: No doubt the names of Voltaire and J. S. Mill are going to be tossed around in coming days by people who have probably never read them.

I've been posting that Voltaire quote in response to well-meaning friends of mine who celebrate this as a victory for left-wing ideals and 'the greater good'. They treat my devotion to free speech, an idea that my countrymen have fought and died for, as something silly. Bolt is an asshole and an idiot, but he should not be silenced.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:57 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


He hasn't been silenced. He just can't use his position of power in the media to make up a bunch of shit.
posted by markr at 9:05 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


He hasn't been silenced. He just can't use his position of power in the media to make up a bunch of shit.

but what's the limit? What happens if I want to call Sea Shepherd a bunch of eco-terrorists, or certain people backwards, no-nothing Luddites? what if scientists talk about how climate change denialits are a bunch of nutcases? what if people really are exaggerating indigenous heritage (I'm not saying they are, but it could happen)?

There are too many protections on speech here. John Birmingham was sued for writing a restaurant review. Parliament is not allowed to be mocked.

When the Westboro Baptist Church had their rights upheld, MeFites were in favor of it. I'd like them to flood this thread, because I'm sick of people smugly telling me that as an Australian I have 'no right to free speech', like that's supposed to make me happy instead of chill me.

Oppose Andrew Bolt with Media Watch, not laws.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:08 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


If they'd sued for defamation, they'd have won; they didn't because they didn't want damages, only an apology. The RDA might be too broadly framed, but this ain't an example of speech that would have otherwise been legal.

If Bolt wants to claim people are falsely identifying themselves as Aboriginal for financial advantage, he's free to do so, as long as he can back himself up with real research and actual facts.
posted by robcorr at 9:16 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's the key thing - there are certain protections that Bolt might have been able to avail himself of under the Act - "exceptions" to the Act which allow it to be technically breached as long as there is a defensible reason behind the breach.

What the Judge in this case found - Justice Mordecai (Mordy) Bromberg - a former StKilda AFL player if I recall correctly - was that Bolt was not able to "access" these exceptions because, bluntly, what he wrote was a pile of bullshit.

If what he wrote was the truth and it fell under one of these exceptions, Bolt might've had a chance at not being found guilty of a breach.

But to no avail.

Ultimately, the description of Bolt by Tumid Dahlia above is pretty much on the money. One can literally feel themselves become more stupid, less tolerant, less understanding, less intelligent, as you listen to or read his rubbish.

Justice Bromberg's judgement on the case makes for some nice reading, particularly the bits where he virtually calls Bolt a complete and utter liar and bullshit artist (though in nice "judge-speak").

Lovecraft in Brooklyn - no problems with Bolt being able to spew his right-wing wingnut rubbish, as long as it can be defended and as long as there is a little bit of truth there. Thing is, on a number of issues (including this one, climate change, and other politically-charged topics) he has been found to be nothing more than a high-profile liar.

That I do have a problem with.
posted by chris88 at 9:16 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


LiB, you could probably start with reading Blomberg J's actual decision. The case turned on matters of fact. The reason Blot lost was because he MADE SHIT up, and it was easy to show that he had.
posted by wilful at 9:16 PM on September 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


They treat my devotion to free speech, an idea that my countrymen have fought and died for, as something silly.

Technically I don't think anyone in the USA ever fought and died for free speech.
posted by Hoopo at 9:17 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, just on the "freedom of speech" topic -

There is a difference between "freedom of speech" and "unfettered freedom of speech". An argument could be made that we in Australia have a level of the former, but not a level of the latter.

And that probably isn't a bad thing.
posted by chris88 at 9:18 PM on September 28, 2011


As an Australian you have plenty of rights to free speech, LiB. You can spout your ridiculous, ignorant crap about eco-terrorists all you want (and you do).

In fact, you even have the right to racist hate-speech, as long as you're not making shit up about actual people in the process.

The writers of the Racial Discrimination Act were aware that banning racial vilification had implications for free speech. Which is why the Act contains explicit exceptions for hate-speech made "in good faith".

Bolt's problem was that he could not convince the judge that his hate-speech was made "in good faith" as it contained deliberate falsehoods about actual, named individuals. Making shit up, in other words.

Now this is, in fact, defamation. Which is not protected speech, even in the United States. And it's not what your "countrymen fought and died for".

In fact, the aboriginals who brought the case against Bolt could have taken him to court for regular defamation, in which case there would have been nine separate trials, and possibly monetary payouts. Taking him to court under the Racial Discrimination Act allowed them to take legal action as a class while making a political statement against racism in the media. but if Bolt's article did not include defamatory lies, then he most likely wouldn't have lost the case.

Anyway, nobody is "silencing" Bolt. He'll still be the loudest blow-hard in the Murdoch monopoly press, and one of the only people in the country with his own TV show. The only difference is now he's doing it as a convicted racist liar, instead of a regular racist liar.
posted by moorooka at 9:19 PM on September 28, 2011 [34 favorites]


They treat my devotion to free speech, an idea that my countrymen have fought and died for, as something silly.

As noble as free speech may be, fighting and dying for something does not automatically ennoble it.

Western culture is no longer - if it ever was - one where the the argument with the greatest merit is assured victory. The argument is won by the person who shouts the loudest. "Free speech" is a road we like to march along because we think it leads to some kind of ideal truth, and truth gives us hope, because what else are we to do? The problem with mirages is by the time you get to them, they've positioned themselves further away, and so you keep marching with the sun beating down on your back thinking, well, at least I'm free to do this, and the oasis of truth is surely not much further away. Meanwhile, the laziest and most cunning have set up wine-tents on the sides of the road and are hawking for weary travellers to come rest their tired feet, we have drink, and women and song! Inside your throat will get slit and your purse emptied but at least your died in the shade, with a full belly. A few people struggle onwards, fuelled by nothing more than the notion that they can do so, and by a kind of righteousness derived from not being one of the poor fools bleeding out in the sand.

My feeling is it's better to firebomb the wine-tents. Forget about finding truth on your own, because you won't. All you can do is take down some liars on your journey. Just maybe, when enough of them have been burned, those who would be their incumbents will think twice. Better to march to our deaths in a futile search for truth than sit and die in a wine-tent of falsehood. And I like wine-tents, I have one of my own, though really it's just a bedsheet draped over two chairs and me sitting in there drinking from a box because ha ha ha, I've got it all figured out.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:20 PM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Btw, here's a response I wrote to this instapunditry. Sadly, too much of the commentary so far has been from people who haven't bothered to read the judgment. David Marr is a notable exception.
posted by robcorr at 9:21 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm still looking for an example of somebody - anybody - who died defending the right of someone else to say reprehensible things. Voltaire sure didn't do it, and if he had ever been placed in a situation where he might personally have to, he would've recanted eloquently. And so would the Original Poster (but less eloquently).

This story actually gives me one more reason to move to Australia. But not to stay with certain Australians.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:24 PM on September 28, 2011


It must be terrible & confusing for Andrew Bolt, that people exist who are part-Aboriginal, and who identify with their Aboriginal heritage, but looking at them you just wouldn't know! Their skin can sometimes be as white as that of a normal person, making them indistinguishable from everybody else. And then they go claiming benefits that they're entitled to! While passing themselves off as regular blokes! When will this craziness ever end?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:25 PM on September 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Robcorr - David Marr's article is indeed an excellent one.
posted by chris88 at 9:27 PM on September 28, 2011


It must be terrible & confusing for Andrew Bolt, that people exist who are part-Aboriginal, and who identify with their Aboriginal heritage, but looking at them you just wouldn't know!

What I'd really like to know is: why does it matter so much to him?
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:28 PM on September 28, 2011


And just out of interest - a short profile on Justice Bromberg (with an AFL angle) here.
posted by chris88 at 9:32 PM on September 28, 2011


And just to give you an idea of how wrong Bolt's claims about these people were, here's an example from the judgment:
Mr Bolt said of Wayne and Graham Atkinson that they were “Aboriginal because their Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman”. In the second article Mr Bolt wrote of Graham Atkinson that “his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman”. The facts given by Mr Bolt and the comment made upon them are grossly incorrect. The Atkinsons’ parents are both Aboriginal as are all four of their grandparents and all of their great grandparents other than one who is the Indian great grandfather that Mr Bolt referred to in the article.
posted by robcorr at 9:33 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


David Marr's article is indeed an excellent one.

I read it at lunch. It still does not convince me that we should try commentators in a court of law.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2011


What a poisonous, lying shitbag this man is.
posted by gerls at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


why does it matter so much to him?

He's expressing and playing to the standard middle-class resentment towards anybody from an underprivileged section of society claiming whatever paltry handouts are available to make life less miserable.

What's particularly galling to him is that as long as you are (I think) at least 1/8th Aboriginal by birth, you can choose for yourself whether to identify as Aboriginal or not. Kinda like how a teenage slut can choose whether to become a single mother or not. See? People are being rewarded by the government for their own free choices!
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:40 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even in the grand old US of A, truly the greatest nation ever and a shining beacon of truth, justice and human rights, commentators are "tried in courts of law" when they trash people's reputations based on lies and distortions.

Honestly, LiB, it would be easier to have a sensible discussion about these issues if you showed you were engaging with what the 1st Amendment really protects, rather than some bizarro ex-pat libertarian nostalgia version of it.
posted by robcorr at 9:43 PM on September 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


Technically I don't think anyone in the USA ever fought and died for free speech.

I'm still looking for an example of somebody - anybody - who died defending the right of someone else to say reprehensible things.


Maybe I'm missing a bit of nuance here, but -- barring the predictable "They're all just Imperialists" bit -- technically everyone in the US Armed Forces takes an oath to support and uphold the US Constitution ... including the First Amendment. So quite a few people have died for free speech, actually.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:45 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Where would you rather they be tried, LiB?

The law states you can't publish made up things about real, identified people. I'm pretty comfortable with that.

In this instance, how would a right to unfettered free speech in Australia benefit Australian society? I'm not talking about highfalutin notions that people have fought and died for or whatever (people have fought and died for all kinds of things, so what?), but of a real tangible, practical benefit to society as a whole. I can't see one, sorry.
posted by deadwax at 9:46 PM on September 28, 2011


markr: “The First Amendment is what lets Fox News blatantly lie in order to push their owner's political beliefs. In Australia you can't do that.”

Is it really that simple? As I recall, it was actually an Australian who gave Fox News to the world. And it seems as though he's had some success in media in his native land as well.
posted by koeselitz at 9:48 PM on September 28, 2011



In this instance, how would a right to unfettered free speech in Australia benefit Australian society? I'm not talking about highfalutin notions that people have fought and died for or whatever (people have fought and died for all kinds of things, so what?), but of a real tangible, practical benefit to society as a whole.


We'd have more free-wheeling public debate. Sure, we'd have more crazies, but we'd also have more alternative viewpoints. I think 'the greater good' is fine for tangible things like healthcare and roads, but when it comes to limiting an individual's creativity and voice in society it's wrong.

Honestly, LiB, it would be easier to have a sensible discussion about these issues if you showed you were engaging with what the 1st Amendment really protects, rather than some bizarro ex-pat libertarian nostalgia version of it.

Funny. I haven't heard a good argument from my friends against it beside 'haha you silly unenlightened American. we don't have that sort of thing here!'
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:48 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm missing a bit of nuance here, but -- barring the predictable "They're all just Imperialists" bit -- technically everyone in the US Armed Forces takes an oath to support and uphold the US Constitution ... including the First Amendment. So quite a few people have died for free speech, actually.

So they've died for the US Census?
posted by wilful at 9:49 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ah willfully misunderstanding abstract notions. Its so hilarious! Maybe if Australians had some national ideals beyond 'stick up for your mates' it wouldn't be such a shock that people are defending impractical notions.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:50 PM on September 28, 2011


but what's the limit?

Ye gods, the limits are clearly spelled out. From s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act:

(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.


So - you can't get on a stage and say "THE SLANT EYED CHINK BASTARDS ARE SUBHUMAN". Because (a) you are targeting a racial group and (b) you are insulting, humiliating and intimidating them.

18D provides an exception for public statements that are fair and accurate. So you can say whatever you want, as long as you don't lie.

So you can't boom through your megaphone at a rally "THE SLANT EYED CHINK BASTARDS EAT THEIR OWN YOUNG" because that is a lie.

What happens if I want to call Sea Shepherd a bunch of eco-terrorists

Political opinion (protected by implied constitutional guarantee), plus Sea Shepard are not a racial or cultural group.

or certain people backwards, no-nothing Luddites?

I presume you are talking about religion, in which case, as above.

what if scientists talk about how climate change denialits are a bunch of nutcases?

Ditto. Are you seeing a pattern yet?

This law is only concerned with false statements made for the purpose of inciting racial hatred. Clear enough? Perhaps you want to live in a place that says racism and defamation are OK, but I don't.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on September 28, 2011 [17 favorites]


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "Ah willfully misunderstanding abstract notions. Its so hilarious! Maybe if Australians had some national ideals beyond 'stick up for your mates' it wouldn't be such a shock that people are defending impractical notions"

Well that's a rather assholey comment. One wonders why you live there when you make it so clear that like neither the place nor the people.
posted by barnacles at 9:52 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Alright, fine. Then why don't the blackface performers get brought up on this? The casual racism on shows like Pizza and Good News Week and any morning show you'd care to mention? Why are there racist jokes at every level of Australian society?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:53 PM on September 28, 2011


Well that's a rather assholey comment. One wonders why you live there when you make it so clear that like neither the place nor the people.

'Love it or leave it' is clearly the grand standard of political discourse. Go find the latest American healthcare thread, read through it a bit, and then ask yourself again why I stay. I might be stupid, but I'm not an idiot.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:54 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


So they've died for the US Census?

Yes. Just like everyone who has ever died for Australia died for vegemite.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:54 PM on September 28, 2011


Alright, fine. Then why don't the blackface performers get brought up on this? The casual racism on shows like Pizza and Good News Week and any morning show you'd care to mention?
Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work
Really, you can just read the RDA. It's on the internet.
posted by wwwwwhatt at 9:55 PM on September 28, 2011


LiB, I'd like to politely suggest that if you made this post to complain about Australians or their politics you step away from the thread at this point.
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [18 favorites]



We'd have more free-wheeling public debate.


Yup, something I say to myself as I'm scanning the editorials is "My, how I wish the weighty debates contain herein were more free-wheeling, and included more defamatory and untrue generalisations! Heavens to betsy there's just too many researched facts and cautious, well-thought out opinions here! If only we didn't have these silly laws against racial vilification, other marginalised people like Andrew Bolt who was the highest paid 'journalist' in Australia at one point, would come out of the woodwork and present the arguments that have been hiding under the weight bushel of political correctness for too long!"

Honestly, dude, I dunno what planet you live on, let alone what country. Read the judgment, read (and understand) the law, and read a bloody paper more than once in a blue moon so you can understand a bit more about this country you purport to live in. Racial vilification laws are not cowing the silent majority of worthy opinions, man. Do you think it's a coincidence that Bolt is the one on trial here?
posted by smoke at 9:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


read a bloody paper more than once in a blue moon

I read the Herald daily, the Telegraph or the Sun Herald when I can't find the Herald, and the Financial Review on Friday for their Review section. If you recently saw a letter in the SMH that sounded like something nutty old LiB would say, there's a reason for that....
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:57 PM on September 28, 2011


You can't make shit up about people when having "free-wheeling public debate", I hardly see that as a great impediment to public discussion. In fact I see it as a very good thing.
posted by deadwax at 9:57 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


[sorry everyone else but if you want to take this to MeTa that's the only okay place to do this one person vs everyone thing.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Serious question, LiB. You say you don't believe we should take commentators to court for what they publish. Let's say you woke up tomorrow to see your name splashed on the front page of the Daily Telegraph accusing you of a truly heinous crime, going into some detail about how they busted you, such that most readers would believe them. It's all false, and when you complain, they stand by their story. What then? Should you have some legal recourse? Or would you rath die for their right to defame you?
posted by robcorr at 9:59 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


More free-wheeling debate ...

Oh yes, that'd be MORE of the sort of "enlightened debate" that encourages the radio shock jock with the largest audience in the land to declare our Prime Minister should be tied up in a chaff bag and dumped out at sea.

Yes, we definitely need more of this issues-based debate.

Seriously - yes, there needs to be a way to be relatively free to express ourselves. But not in a way where we incite (in the Bolt case) racial hatred.
posted by chris88 at 10:00 PM on September 28, 2011


(Sorry, crossed with Jessamyn's note.)
posted by robcorr at 10:00 PM on September 28, 2011


Funny. I haven't heard a good argument from my friends against it beside 'haha you silly unenlightened American. we don't have that sort of thing here!'

That's more a comment on your friends than anything else. We absolutely have protections for free speech in Australia. They are just not codified in a single right like in the US. There is a constitutional guarantee (see below), plus many legislative provisions like s18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

I made this point in a deleted thread a while back:

[Free speech] is not a 'universal' or unfettered value anywhere. Not one single place. The classic example: try shouting 'Fire' in a crowded, fireless theatre in the US, and see what happens.

In Australia... the position is summarized thusly:

‘[f]ree speech does not mean free speech; it means speech hedged in by all the laws against defamation, blasphemy, sedition and so forth; it means freedom governed by law…’ (at [56])
James v Commonwealth (1936) 55 CLR 1 (UK Privy Council, on appeal from the Aus High Court)

Australian courts have taken a similar approach to the freedom of communication (i.e., 'political communication'). Freedom of communication has been long accepted as the subject of an implied Constitutional guarantee: see, for example, Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd and Ors V Commonwealth Of Australia (No 2) - (1992) 108 ALR 577. However, that freedom is also recognised as not absolute, but subject to other competing rights and laws.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:01 PM on September 28, 2011


(Sorry, crossed with Jessamyn's note.)

Ack. Me too. Sorry.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:02 PM on September 28, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts: “This law is only concerned with false statements made for the purpose of inciting racial hatred. Clear enough? Perhaps you want to live in a place that says racism and defamation are OK, but I don't.”

That's not really fair. You can be in favor of unfettered free speech without believing that racism or defamation are okay.

What troubles me about all this is – well, I hate to say it, but I feel the same way as Lovecraft in Brooklyn does about this. I don't see where it stops. It sounds like this guy is being called out as a powerful member of the media, a fine distinction that I doubt will exist much longer if it even exists now. Is a blogger subject to this law, for example? It's possible to influence millions of people now without even being identifiable, for heaven's sake. How is this supposed to be applied?

I appreciate that this seems like a pretty impertinent line to take, as I have never been to Australia and haven't gotten through the whole law yet. It's probably my ignorance; still, thus far, I don't quite understand how this will work as time goes on.

Finally, I don't know if it's an efficacious way to get rid of racism. Shutting people up often doesn't do it. I know it seems unconscionable to just let people say execrable things; but sometimes talking about it is the only way to deal with it, and making it clear at the outset that speech is allowed no matter what is a way of conferring respect and dignity on members of society. Again, this is just one American's perspective, though; and wanting to get rid of racism is a noble and worthy cause that I can understand wanting to support.
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm sure LiB would regard his own personal defamation at the hands of the press as just part of "free-wheeling debate", which he seems to think is improved by the inclusion of outright lies (and racist ones at that).

He certainly wouldn't take legal action - because that might land a commentator in court.
posted by moorooka at 10:07 PM on September 28, 2011


Question for US readers: what would be the likely outcome if a national-level commentator accused an individual of claiming a dubious connection to a native american tribe for personal gain, when in reality that person was a pure-as-the-driven-snow member of the tribe in question?

That seems to be the trans-pacific equivalent to this case. I know in Canada the commentator would be paying a massive legal settlement but I'm trying to understand the culture-clash that is taking the thread into rough seas here.
posted by N-stoff at 10:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


technically everyone in the US Armed Forces takes an oath to support and uphold the US Constitution ... including the First Amendment. So quite a few people have died for free speech, actually.

This isn't sound logic. Fighting on behalf of a country with freedom of speech listed among a number of other principles interpreted as and violated when convenient is not the same as fighting for freedom of speech. This is the sort of logic that gets us gems like "they hate us for our freedom".
posted by Hoopo at 10:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]




I'm sure LiB would regard his own personal defamation at the hands of the press as just part of "free-wheeling debate", which he seems to think is improved by the inclusion of outright lies (and racist ones at that).

He certainly wouldn't take legal action - because that might land a commentator in court.


I'd take private legal action. I wouldn't expect what to be said to be a crime. Besides, you're talking about attacking me as an individual. If he attacked me as an American, I'd be fine with it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:12 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


moorooka: “I'm sure LiB would regard his own personal defamation at the hands of the press as just part of "free-wheeling debate", which he seems to think is improved by the inclusion of outright lies (and racist ones at that). He certainly wouldn't take legal action - because that might land a commentator in court.”

With all due respect, we're not talking about defamation. Defamation is relatively easy to deal with, because a particular victim can be identified, and the actual damage of the defamation can be assessed.

Defamation is also, I should note, illegal in the United States.

But we're talking about racism, which, while more serious and broad a problem than defamation, is much, much more difficult to define or to pin down. I'm certainly not suggesting that everybody's racist, or that racists should be forgiven if nobody is apparently hurt. But – well, in the world as it is, I don't see a way to legislate against racist speech without jailing three quarters of the population (at least in the US – don't know if racism is as big a problem in Australia as it is here). Sad, but true. And I don't know that that's the best recourse.
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Finally, I don't know if it's an efficacious way to get rid of racism.

This part of the Racial Discrimination Act was intended to protect minorities from public racial vilification. No-one ever pretended it would "get rid of racism".
posted by moorooka at 10:13 PM on September 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


What troubles me about all this is – well, I hate to say it, but I feel the same way as Lovecraft in Brooklyn does about this.

Good. The debate was a bit one sided.

Is a blogger subject to this law, for example? It's possible to influence millions of people now without even being identifiable, for heaven's sake. How is this supposed to be applied?

Yes, a blogger would be subject to it. From s18D 'an act is taken not to be done in private if it... (a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public'. Jurisdiction could be tricky, with offshore hosting...etc.

It's yet to come up, frankly.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Finally, I don't know if it's an efficacious way to get rid of racism.

The purpose of the law is not to stop racism - this is why you're allowed to say whatever in private. It is to stop prevent people from feeling unsafe, threatened, marginalised, abused etc, on the basis of race. A fine distinction, but I think an important one.
posted by smoke at 10:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


LiB: "I haven't heard a good argument from my friends against it beside 'haha you silly unenlightened American. we don't have that sort of thing here!'"

You've said this sort of thing a number of times before, and I'm pretty sure it's been pointed out there's 2 common factors linking them all.

You, and your friends.

Clearly, you need different friends. And so do they.
posted by Pinback at 10:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


N-stoff: “Question for US readers: what would be the likely outcome if a national-level commentator accused an individual of claiming a dubious connection to a native american tribe for personal gain, when in reality that person was a pure-as-the-driven-snow member of the tribe in question?”

If even a local commentator – or even a blogger with a wide influence – if anybody at all, in fact, did this who had enough influence for it to make an impact, they would be liable to prosecution. Again, you're talking about defamation. We're talking about racism here. It's very different.
posted by koeselitz at 10:16 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd take private legal action. I wouldn't expect what to be said to be a crime.

That's exactly what happened here. It's not a crime. From s18C:

Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.

Part IV says nothing of the sort.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:17 PM on September 28, 2011


Clearly, you need different friends. And so do they.

OK, I'm as guilty as anyone of this (and probably more so), but let's ease off on the ad hominem and focus on the issues.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:20 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: “Yes, a blogger would be subject to it. From s18D 'an act is taken not to be done in private if it... (a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public'. Jurisdiction could be tricky, with offshore hosting...etc. It's yet to come up, frankly.”

I'm only saying – I imagine it will come up. And jurisdiction isn't the only tricky thing. It's very difficult to define "privacy" now. Consider, for example, Facebook statuses, some of which have already become internet-famous and reached millions of people, though they were intended to be private.

Again, if we punish every person who says a racist thing in public, we'll be very, very busy for a long time. But... maybe that would be a good work to put ourselves to. And maybe it would be very good for us to really try to prevent minority races from being vilified. It would, however, mean prosecuting a lot more than just this one guy.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Finally, I don't know if it's an efficacious way to get rid of racism. Shutting people up often doesn't do it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the ruling, which I haven't seen discussed in the media, is that the judge agreed. He refused to order that Bolt not write similar columns in future. He also refused to order that the infringing columns be removed from the paper's website:
461. It is important that nothing in the orders I make should suggest that it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification including challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people. I have not found Mr Bolt and HWT to have contravened s 18C simply because the Newspaper Articles dealt with subject matter of that kind. I have found a contravention because of the manner in which that subject matter was dealt with.

462. ... I agree with Mr Bolt and HWT that the terms of an injunction should not extend to the publication of articles whose content is substantially the same as, or substantially similar to, that contained in the Newspaper Articles.

463. In relation to the order sought that HWT remove offending articles from any online site under its control or direction, HWT contends that it would not be appropriate for that order to extend to the internet archives of the Herald Sun. It was contended, and I accept, that the internet archives of a significant media organisation such as the Herald Sun serves an important public interest by preserving and making available historical records of news and information... If I were to accede to that qualification, HWT has indicated its preparedness to consent to an order that it publish permanently and prominently, on the internet versions of the Newspaper Articles, a copy of the declaratory relief granted by the Court.

464. I can well appreciate Ms Eatock’s purpose in seeking to have the Newspaper Articles removed from the online archive of the Herald Sun. There is good reason to try and restrict continued access to, and dissemination of, the Newspaper Articles by the public. However, it seems to me that, in the age in which we live, any attempt made to restrict access to an internet publication is likely to be circumvented by access being made available on online sites beyond the control of HWT. Ms Eatock’s legitimate objective would be better served by maintaining the Newspaper Articles on the online site to which people looking for them are most likely to go and including at that place a notice of the kind offered by HWT and to which I will refer further below. Accompanied by an appropriate corrective notice, the contravening effect of the Newspaper Articles will be negated. …

468. My preliminary view is that a corrective order should be made which would require HWT to publish a notice in the Herald Sun in print and online. The terms of the notice would include an introduction which referred to this proceeding and the order requiring its publication and set out the declaration made by the Court. In order to give the publication of the corrective notice a prominence and frequency commensurate with the publication of the Newspaper Articles and to facilitate it being communicated to those likely to have read the Newspaper Articles, I have in mind that the corrective order would require the publication of the notice in the Herald Sun newspaper and online, on two separate occasions in a prominent place immediately adjacent to Mr Bolt’s regular column.
In other words, the judge doesn't want to shut down debate, he just wants people to know that Bolt's articles were racist and not published in good faith.

That's fighting bad speech with more speech.
posted by robcorr at 10:23 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Again, if we punish every person who says a racist thing in public

He hasn't been punished. He was asked to apologize and not re-print the discriminatory statements.
posted by elephantday at 10:23 PM on September 28, 2011


We're talking about racism here. It's very different.

Okay. From my non-legal perch what Bolt did was going to get him in legal trouble in both countries - defamation in the US versus both defamation and racial vilification in Australia. The US perhaps has a clearer separation of the two concepts, its may be tougher to find loopholes between the two in Australia.

Will this significantly reduce free speech in Australia? Unlikely.
posted by N-stoff at 10:27 PM on September 28, 2011


That's exactly what happened here. It's not a crime.

Yes, the judgement linked in the post is Eatock v Bolt. Anything criminal will be R v [whoever], where R at present means the Queen (from the latin 'regina'). It's a very simple way to distinguish between criminal & civil matters.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:27 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


He won't even be ordered to apologise, because the judge agrees there's no value in an insincere apology. His newspaper will be required to publish a notice explaining the findings. That's it. That's all.
posted by robcorr at 10:29 PM on September 28, 2011


Bolt hasn't been jailed, nor has a gag order been granted; he's not shut up unless his employers choose to sack him, which I doubt very much they will do. And this was not a criminal prosecution, so there was never a possibility of him being jailed. The legal action was brought privately by the individuals concerned, not by the state.

The Racial Discrimination Act isn't there to "stop racism" - it has a number of functions, including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race in matters of employment, accessing services, etc. The Act's function which this case relates to is that of phohibiting racial hatred and racial vilification. There are defences against publishing racist statements but the judge found Bolt was not entitled to claim that defence because he did not act in good faith. He acted to deliberately provoke.

It's worth looking at section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act to see the circumstances under which Bolt might have claimed he was not being unlawful:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or

(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or

(c) in making or publishing:

(i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

(ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.


If it was published in good faith and intended to spark genuine debate, or was merely reporting of fact on a matter of public interest, he would have a defence. But the judge found that was not the case. The judge has been pretty canny here; Bolt's essentially been let off with the lightest of slaps on the wrist. No gag order, no apology ordered. The purpose was not to punish Bolt but negate the harm he had done and raise the issues in the public consciousness, as the judge points out:

Public vindication is important. It will go some way to redressing the hurt felt by those injured. It will serve to restore the esteem and social standing which has been lost as a consequence of the contravention. It will serve to inform those influenced by the contravening conduct of the wrongdoing involved. It may help to negate the dissemination of racial prejudice.
posted by andraste at 10:34 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd take private legal action. I wouldn't expect what to be said to be a crime. Besides, you're talking about attacking me as an individual. If he attacked me as an American, I'd be fine with it.

Now we're getting somewhere.

1. Ms Eatock took private legal action.
2. Mr Bolt was not accused of any crime.
3. Mr Bolt attacked the people mentioned as individuals, but also as representatives of what he said was a growing group of people (fair-skinned Aboriginal people) who he said were defrauding various people (charities, scholarships, government, employers). Ms Eatock took action as a representative of the group.
posted by robcorr at 10:39 PM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Besides, you're talking about attacking me as an individual. If he attacked me as an American, I'd be fine with it.

You would rather be judged on your unchangeable attributes as a member of a class rather your individual choices? That's pretty much the antithesis of all anti-discrimination law.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:52 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus. If people here in the US were required by law to tell the truth when publishing, and to be able to back up their opinions with fact, we might crumble as a nation.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a thorough, nuanced analysis from the Castan Centre for Human rights. It argues that the law should be narrower, only restricting speech that "humiliates" or "intimidates" people based on their race, ethnicity, etc. (Which Bolt's articles were found to have done anyway.)
posted by robcorr at 10:57 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


From robcorr's link:

Section 18C proscribes speech which results in four consequences of ascending order of harm. “Offence” is the least harmful while “intimidation” is the most harmful. I think the Act goes too far in proscribing conduct which “offends” or “insults” another. Article 19(3) of the ICCPR anticipates that one’s right to freedom of expression can be limited by proportionate measures designed to protect the “rights of others”. Those “rights” should be other “human rights”, not lesser rights. And there is no human right to be free from offence and insults, even on the basis of one’s race.

I absolutely agree. The offence bit is silly. As it is, s18C could potentially capture moronic incidents like the blackface thing that LiB referenced upthread. It would probably be saved by the defences in s18D (particularly performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work), but that's just inelegant.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:06 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The First Amendment is what lets Fox News blatantly lie in order to push their owner's political beliefs. In Australia you can't do that. Some of us like it that way although clearly most Americans are happier with their system, and that is fair enough. From the judge:
Is it Illegal to lie in Australia? Is it against the rules to say the Labour party wants to eat babies? Maybe in cases where it involves racial issues, but there doesn't seem to be a broad ban.

The problem I have with getting rid of the first amendment (in the u.s.) is who gets to decide what's "true" or not? Maybe the current courts could do a good job but could they be corrupted over time?
posted by delmoi at 11:26 PM on September 28, 2011


Anyone who doubts Australia's free speech credentials needs to listen to the Alan Jones show on 2GB radio.
posted by vidur at 11:31 PM on September 28, 2011


Anyone who doubts Australia's free speech credentials needs to listen to the Alan Jones show on 2GB radio.

Now you are just being cruel.
posted by Wolof at 11:38 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone who doubts Australia's free speech credentials needs to listen to the Alan Jones show on 2GB radio.

No, please don't. No-one should have to listen to Alan Jones to prove anything.

Instead, watch one of the brilliant Media Watch takedowns of his "Cash for Comment" scandal - a talk radio version of payola - available via this website.

Better yet, read about Jones in Chris Masters' most brilliant book - Jonestown

Chris Masters - now there's a real journalist. One of the best Australia's ever produced.
posted by chris88 at 11:40 PM on September 28, 2011


Oh, come on! Every time I try one of my tricks on LiB, you nice Aussies come in and save him.
posted by vidur at 11:43 PM on September 28, 2011


Just as an addendum - Alan Jones' Cash for Comment "calamity" occurred in 2004, not in 1999.

When you go to the Media Watch site, search under "2004".
posted by chris88 at 11:44 PM on September 28, 2011


Here's a thorough, nuanced analysis

Thorough? Nuanced?

Look, if it can't be written on the back of a stamp, by a rich white man who doesn't want to pay for a stamp, there's no deal to be had here.

I enjoy listening to a bit of Alan Jones every now and again...
posted by pompomtom at 11:44 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just as an addendum - Alan Jones' Cash for Comment "calamity" occurred in 2004

I've still got my "Stay Brave & True" Media Watch fridge magnet from that episode.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:49 PM on September 28, 2011


Is it against the rules to say the Labour party wants to eat babies?

I believe that, to be defamation, the speech has to lower a 'reasonable' person's opinion of the alleged victim... so that's probably a line-ball example you've got there.
posted by pompomtom at 11:53 PM on September 28, 2011


yeah, I don't think it's possible for a reasonable person to have a lower opinion of the Labor party right now.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:56 PM on September 28, 2011




Is it against the rules to say the Labour party wants to eat babies?

I believe that, to be defamation, the speech has to lower a 'reasonable' person's opinion of the alleged victim... so that's probably a line-ball example you've got there.


The Labour party won't eat babies. They'll ship them to an allied country that will eat the babies for them.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:58 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think one could also argue that Labour is a fictional entity that has nothing to do with Labor.
posted by vidur at 11:59 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but a reasonable person would insert the 'u'.
posted by pompomtom at 12:01 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking of "free speech" or whatever, I like the bit at the end of the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications that says it is illegal to sell materials that

"contain gratuitous, exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions of sexual activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are revolting or abhorrent".

I personally can't stand revolting things so I obviously think this a fantastic provision.
posted by Winnemac at 12:19 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but a reasonable person would insert the 'u'.

Annoying as it is, the spelling is actually 'Labor' (sic)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:23 AM on September 29, 2011


Labor or Labour?

A common query from new members relates to the spelling of the word ‘Labor’. The records tell us that, in the early days, the ALP was known as both ‘Labor’ and ‘Labour’. The report of the party’s federal conference in 1902 was spelled ‘Labor’; in 1905 and 1908 'Labour' and from 1912 ‘Labor’. This final change is thought to have reflected the influence of the then powerful United States labor movement, and especially the influence of Labor’s prominent American-born member King O'Malley. The change also happened to make it easier to distinguish references to the Party from the labour movement in general.

posted by vidur at 12:28 AM on September 29, 2011


This isn't sound logic. Fighting on behalf of a country with freedom of speech listed among a number of other principles interpreted as and violated when convenient is not the same as fighting for freedom of speech. This is the sort of logic that gets us gems like "they hate us for our freedom".

I disagree. The way I see it, it's fundamentally a matter of motivation. That motivation might be misinformed, and one could easily have conflicts where both sides are fighting for the very same principle, interpreted differently, but it doesn't mean that those motivations must be insincere, or don't exist. Similarly, that a person might be fighting for principles that may ultimately be imperfectly or even hypocritically applied by a government is beside the point.

So it's funny that you should bring up the "they hate us for our freedoms" line, because I've always seen that as largely a matter of refusing to believe people when they tell you why they're doing something.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:41 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


All that 'reasonable people' and 'revolting and abhorrent' stuff is just a cover for censorship. I'm convinced this Andrew Bolt case isn't too bad, but its part of a pattern of limiting and constraining free speech. What if some fictional radio DJ in a GTA game says similar stuff to Bolt?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:43 AM on September 29, 2011


What if some fictional radio DJ in a GTA game says similar stuff to Bolt?

Then he can use fictional names. Too hard, perhaps?
posted by Wolof at 12:56 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


A game was once banned for promoting graffiti. Excuse me if the judge's reasonable decision in the Bolt case doesn't reassure me. Australia needs a proper Bill of Rights, to protect everyone from shock jocks to asylum seekers.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:04 AM on September 29, 2011


Here's a google web search of Obama and tabloids.

I wonder if anything would count as dishonest hate speech if said or read aloud on television. Perhaps the slurs about his native country of origin?

Freedom of speech certainly is a dangerous thing and has a long, contentious history of control which (I doubt) is yet over. People like Joyce have been tried for what they wrote, but these days of mass media we find it quaint that anyone would ever still complain by book. We have TVs now and they are strictly controlled (Network, Basic Cable, Premium Cable, and Pay-per View), all with corresponding levels of what can and cannot be shown, said, or done. I always think of such light boxes as Shadows on the Wall, and in Plato's Republic there would be a strict control of those puppet theaters -- funny guy trying to forever to tame and subdue our black horse Desire.

These Mass Media restrictions in (many, many (if not all)) countries exist, and they likely exist because we are terrified of our own powers, of the power of "Free Speech", which goes directly to the heart of who we are. Think of the famous example, "FIRE! THERE IS A FIRE! GET OUT GET OUT THE THEATER IS ON FIRE!" or whatever was said, that such acts of speech create panics, causes harm, kills your fellow man. It says something of trust, implicit, even of strangers, or just a loud voice in a dark theater (not coming from over the surround-sound speakers).
posted by Shit Parade at 1:27 AM on September 29, 2011


I've been posting that Voltaire quote in response to well-meaning friends of mine
Please note that the "Voltaire quote" that's so famous in the English-speaking world is misattributed. It was written by a biographer of Voltaire in 1906.
posted by elgilito at 1:40 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes. Just like everyone who has ever died for Australia died for vegemite.

I think you'll find that many of them died of vegemite.
posted by No-sword at 1:49 AM on September 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can just imagine what my mother (who has become the Australian equivalent of a teabagger/Bircher in recent years, and tends to go on about how Bob Brown is a Communist menace to liberty and such) must be saying about this. About how the Coms are suppressing free speech here just as they did behind the Iron Curtain.
posted by acb at 2:10 AM on September 29, 2011


Australia needs a proper Bill of Rights

No, not really. We stumble along just fine with a combination of the separation of powers, parliamentary accountability, the common law & a degree of judicial activism, just like England does, and every other Westminster system nation I know of.

Besides, it's not as if an American style Bill of Rights is automatically a good thing. For starters, it's the reason that every wingnut or crackhead can legally get themselves a gun, and why the US has a domestic murder rate that makes the Iraq war look like a summer holiday with the Smurfs.

And, as pointed out numerous times above, the American right to free speech is still not an absolute right to say whatever the hell you like. Laws around libel & slander are a perfect example that free speech is never truly free.

In any case, if you knew anything about the hoops to jump through to get even the most minor & benevolent constitutional change passed, and the resulting dearth of such changes since Federation (only 8 out of 44 passed) you'd realise that there is literally zero chance of ever getting an entire Bill of Rights into there. It'd have to be a "triple majority "referendum, ie an overall majority of the entire population, plus a majority in every state.

I'd bet dollars to donuts the debates over even the most obvious right, like the right for adults to drink beer for example, would confuse & obfuscate the issue so much that even that one single proposed right would never be passed.

TL;DR the US Marines fought & died to protect Australia - at least, according to the Seppoes - which means they fought & died for our Constitution & laws. Therefore, no American ever can say we need to replace our working system with an American style Bill of Rights.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:21 AM on September 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'd bet dollars to donuts the debates over even the most obvious right, like the right for adults to drink beer for example, would confuse & obfuscate the issue so much that even that one single proposed right would never be passed.
INT. A PUB

BLUEY: Cheers, mate, I'll have a beer.
JOHNNO: Well... yeah, of course you will.
BLUEY: Huh?
JOHNNO: Well, you have to have a beer now, don't you?
BLUEY: What? Who says?
JOHNNO: The government, Bluey. It was all decided in the referendum, don't you remember?
BLUEY: But that was--
JOHNNO: You don't need to worry about what to drink, or when, any more. The government's taking care of all that for you.
BLUEY: Strewth, mate, what if I want a Jack & Coke instead? That sounds like a nanny state!
JOHNNO: (looks at BLUEY oddly) ... Listen, I think... I'd better go.
BLUEY: What? Hey, what--

POLICEMEN burst in.

POLICEMAN A: Beer enforcers, smartarse! Hands on your head!

BLUEY puts hands on head, looks at camera, baffled and dismayed. Everyone in pub looks at him in disapproval, whispers to each other. Fade to black.

VOICEOVER: The government thinks they know better than you how you should spend your night out. Don't be a mug. Vote No on October 3rd... and drink for yourself. AuthorizedbyJackDanielsincorporated.
posted by No-sword at 2:31 AM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


as long as you are (I think) at least 1/8th Aboriginal by birth, you can choose for yourself whether to identify as Aboriginal or not.

Here's a nice overview.

And yes, Mr Bolt, it's just like winning the lottery. Oh, the benefits! Because nothing says 'win' in Australia like being a fair-skinned Aborigine. Your mates just love that shit.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:34 AM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


All that 'reasonable people' and 'revolting and abhorrent' stuff is just a cover for censorship

I expect there's a libertarian cruise ship, that's short of hipsters,leaving soon for some lovely place that doesn't have defamation law. I'm less sure that either the ship or the destination will offer the healthcare you apparently can't be arsed to pay for. So, do you enjoy society or not?
posted by pompomtom at 3:40 AM on September 29, 2011


Had a couple of comments from work mates today about 'white abos'. None of them would swap places, even those who felt that Bolt was right.
I am pleased that Bolt's comments have been publicly judged wrong, and that they must be labelled that way. Preventing racial hate speech in public forums doesn't seem to place a very high barrier to free expression.
posted by bystander at 3:44 AM on September 29, 2011


Excuse me if the judge's reasonable decision in the Bolt case doesn't reassure me. Australia needs a proper Bill of Rights, to protect everyone from shock jocks to asylum seekers.

I agree that Australia would benefit from a bill of rights (or perhaps something on the model of the European Convention on Human Rights), though I can't see one of those letting Bolt off the hook in this case. The judge ruled, quite narrowly and cautiously, that Bolt was found to have deliberately and maliciously distorted the facts here. This is not a free-speech case in any reasonable sense.
posted by acb at 3:46 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who wants a bill of rights!?! It sounds as bad as that most deplorable thing, a licence to punt!
Also, why I oppose gay marriage - I don't want to be forced to marry a man!
posted by bystander at 3:48 AM on September 29, 2011


You realize, the British libel laws have completely run off the rails, right?

There isn't even any good reason for that particular insanity. It's simply (a) a moral panic about people's private lives being far more public that (b) the courts got all huffy about being ignored over.

Yes, their parliament should end that fiasco without instituting an American style 'freedom of speech' protection. Yet, it remains an excellent object lesson in why you want enumerated limits on the powers of the government.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:58 AM on September 29, 2011


It's quite striking, but I guess not really surprising, how few of the people coming out to defend Bolt are willing to even acknowledge that he lost the case because the articles were largely based on stuff that he just made up. These people live in a magic alternative universe where if you repeat a lie enough times it warps reality and becomes true.

I think it's fairly clear that, for all the Judge said, Bolt essentially won the case. He doesn't have to apologise or pay damages and the articles can continue to be published on the Internet (although the Judge has delayed making orders pending a conference between the parties, so we can't be sure exactly what the final result will be). He gets to climb up on the cross that the plaintiffs built for him and spill fake blood everywhere, while his legions fill every worthless news website comment section in the country with their special blend of whining privilege and inchoate resentment.

Best of all, he can choose to appeal to the High Court where he gets to do it all over again, pretending to be a champion of free speech despite devoting a large part of his career to ensuring that legal recognition of such freedom is denied to others. Go Bolt!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:20 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason he gets to do all that is because so few people on the Left stand up and say hey bullshit, Bolt! Seriously, it's just ridiculous how often this bullshit about white aboriginals and queue-jumping refugees and carbon tax armaggedon is brought up and not immediately shot down by the likes of you who are so erudite on forums like this but not in the public view. By you I also include me, I guess. Seriously, we need to step up.
posted by h00py at 6:36 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Question for US readers: what would be the likely outcome if a national-level commentator accused an individual of claiming a dubious connection to a native american tribe for personal gain, when in reality that person was a pure-as-the-driven-snow member of the tribe in question?

Depends: is the member of that tribe suing the commentator for libel?

IF YES:

The case would go to trial and likely make national news. Either the commentator would settle out of court, or lose, and pay damages. His employer, leery of a scandal, would probably drop him from whatever show he had, prompting a flood of "omg those POLITICALLY CORRECT ASSHOLES TOOK HIM OFF THE AIR" blog posts on one side and "yay he's gone" posts on the other. The commentator would eventually get a stint on talk radio which diehard fans would tune into, infuriating the commentator's anti-fans ("omg someone actually hired that asshole again?") and the partisan sniping about the incident would go on for a while until the next scandal happened and everyone got distracted by that.

IF NO:

His employer, leery of a scandal, would probably drop him from whatever show he had, prompting a flood of "omg those POLITICALLY CORRECT ASSHOLES TOOK HIM OFF THE AIR" blog posts on one side and "yay he's gone" posts on the other. The commentator would eventually get a stint on talk radio which diehard fans would tune into, infuriating the commentator's anti-fans ("omg someone actually hired that asshole again?") and the partisan sniping about the incident would go on for a while until the next scandal happened and everyone got distracted by that.

So, not much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on September 29, 2011


> What a poisonous, lying shitbag this man is.

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. -H. L. Mencken

Someone somewhere thinks I'm a poisonous lying shitbag. Someone somewhere thinks you're a poisonous lying shitbag. What can the likes of us do if that someone is powerful or well financed and has us dragged into court, and we have nothing but our own resources to defend ourselves with?

Daughter: Father, that man's bad!

More: There's no law against that!

Roper: There is, God's law!

More: Then let God arrest him!

Wife: While you talk he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down (and you're just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!


- Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

Laws against any sort of objectionable speech depend absolutely and completely on the will of the enforcers to define what speech is considered objectionable. Over the long run the tendency will always be to define any speech that is not in the interest of the enforcers as objectionable. If it hasn't occurred to any of you that speaking out in favor of racial or sexual or gender equality could be defined as objectionable speech and the speech laws turned against you, then... [facepalm]
posted by jfuller at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amanojoku, I think you may be taking the oath of enlistment a bit literally. It's a symbolic thing at best, in the same vein as the oath of allegiance taken in the UK and Canada. It's an oath that I have had to take in Canada and I don't mind telling you that for my own part I could not care less about "the Queen."
posted by Hoopo at 9:02 AM on September 29, 2011


This really isn't a free speech issue, per se.

Nixon's political team's greatest post-Watergate success in America has been the complete muddling of these issues for their own political benefit. Mass market commercial speech is not even remotely the same thing as private speech. It's distributed through monopolistic, highly unequally accessible distribution channels, and particularly in the case of television broadcast media, there's even scientific evidence it's a significantly more powerfully persuasive "speech" medium than the kinds of communication channels that actually are equally accessible to the public.

Americans are such jingoistic suckers for any appeal to "Free Speech! Etc.!" if you can scratch out even the lamest, superficial free speech-based argument for policies that in fact make speech protection more of a pay-for-play proposition (as in Texas, where the courts struck down the parts of the campaign finance system that gave matching funds to candidates on the public system, effectively ruling the Texas government has no legal authority even to equalize access to the means to broadcast political speech that doesn't represent big money interests), there's never a shortage of naive idealists ready to line up on the side of the big money, just because somebody played the free speech card and because they've been conditioned into leaping to the defense of their vague and inchoate notions of free speech just as blindly and unconsciously as they've been primed to start salivating when the familiar smell of a McDonald's restaurant wafts by on the breeze.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:17 AM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


These people live in a magic alternative universe where if you repeat a lie enough times it warps reality and becomes true.

So, the United States then?
posted by cereselle at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


not immediately shot down by the likes of you who are so erudite on forums like this but not in the public view. By you I also include me, I guess. Seriously, we need to step up.

Speak for yourself. I snark away daily on the Sydney Morning Herald forums.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:57 PM on September 29, 2011


"With all due respect, we're not talking about defamation. Defamation is relatively easy to deal with, because a particular victim can be identified, and the actual damage of the defamation can be assessed.

Defamation is also, I should note, illegal in the United States.

But we're talking about racism, which, while more serious and broad a problem than defamation, is much, much more difficult to define or to pin down. I'm certainly not suggesting that everybody's racist, or that racists should be forgiven if nobody is apparently hurt. But – well, in the world as it is, I don't see a way to legislate against racist speech without jailing three quarters of the population (at least in the US – don't know if racism is as big a problem in Australia as it is here). Sad, but true. And I don't know that that's the best recourse.
"

This is more in line with a civil rights complaint, which operate under a different paradigm here in America. But it does give us some guidance in talking about the issue: This can pretty easily be reframed into a hypothetical about violating the civil rights of a class (a small class, in this case some specific Aboriginal advocates). Where the civil rights analogy would break down is that the US legal system requires a pecuniary relationship (employees and customers being the most common), and without that, damages can't be found, and without damages, it's impossible to litigate under that system.

But really, speaking as someone with at least a passing view of media law, Bolt would be sued up to his eyeballs here. There's no way that the public figure exemption would apply, the defamation and libel (he'd be liable for both, dependent upon state laws) is likely to cause a loss in reputation and earnings, and was pretty clearly made with a willful disregard for the facts.

And that's what's particularly galling about the misrepresentations made here, especially under LiB's dunderheaded "free speech" stanning where he managed to get the facts wrong at nearly every comment. This is civilly actionable nearly everywhere, and should be, because it has real life consequences, and a reflexive slavering over the post hoc rationalizations of privilege under some farcical absolutism for free speech.
posted by klangklangston at 1:59 PM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


All that 'reasonable people' and 'revolting and abhorrent' stuff is just a cover for censorship

I expect there's a libertarian cruise ship, that's short of hipsters,leaving soon for some lovely place that doesn't have defamation law. I'm less sure that either the ship or the destination will offer the healthcare you apparently can't be arsed to pay for. So, do you enjoy society or not?


Just because I support free speech does not make me a 'libertarian'. I hate that confusion.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:05 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]



It's quite striking, but I guess not really surprising, how few of the people coming out to defend Bolt are willing to even acknowledge that he lost the case because the articles were largely based on stuff that he just made up. These people live in a magic alternative universe where if you repeat a lie enough times it warps reality and becomes true.


I don't really give a shit if something is true or not. We should be allowed to say it anyway. There's hyperbole, and exaggeration, and Herzog's 'ecstatic truth'. Maybe if we had looser standards political debate in Australia wouldn't be so bloody boring.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:07 PM on September 29, 2011


Yes, politics should be judged first & foremost for its entertainment value. This is something we can learn from the Americans.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:03 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really give a shit if something is true or not. We should be allowed to say it anyway.

....You...APPROVE of libel?

Okay, then, so you'd be comfortable with my contacting someone in your hometown and saying that you told me that you were ultimately responsible for killing Azaria Chamberlain, then, right?

I mean, that's not true, but since you "don't give a shit" whether something's true or not and think "I should be allowed to say it anyway" that should be something you'd be okay with, right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really give a shit if something is true or not. We should be allowed to say it anyway.

So you don't believe fraud should be a crime then? Because that's what fraud is: lying. Is fraud protected under your ideal of free speech, too?

In the US, we're all already allowed to say anything we want. What we are not (or at least, should not) be allowed to do is broadcast whatever we want to say across the nation without taking legal responsibility for the consequences if we are lying or otherwise speaking in a way that's demonstrably harmful to either specific people or to the public in general.

Speech =/= mass broadcast of speech. If it did, we'd all be constitutionally entitled to have the government provide each and everyone of us free and equal access to TV transmission technology and newspaper printing presses and distribution networks. But the medium is not the message, and the message is not the medium.

Being able to distinguish between things that are related but not actually identical is a pretty minimal requisite of critical thinking that we don't seem to do very well in the US these days.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:09 PM on September 29, 2011


Just because I support free speech does not make me a 'libertarian'.

No, that would be the whinging about one's rights while never considering one's responsibilities.
posted by pompomtom at 6:17 PM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just because I support free speech does not make me a 'libertarian'.

No, that would be the whinging about one's rights while never considering one's responsibilities.


What 'responsibilities'? what curtailment of free speech should be allowed?


Okay, then, so you'd be comfortable with my contacting someone in your hometown and saying that you told me that you were ultimately responsible for killing Azaria Chamberlain, then, right?

I mean, that's not true, but since you "don't give a shit" whether something's true or not and think "I should be allowed to say it anyway" that should be something you'd be okay with, right?


I'd be able to assure them that I didn't, in fact, kill Azaria Chamberlin.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:39 PM on September 29, 2011


what curtailment of free speech should be allowed?

Seriously, you don't even read these threads do you?

People have so far raised fraud, libel, slander, racial vilification and the classic "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" - most of which are not protected even in your vaunted United States.

Perhaps they should use shorter words?
posted by pompomtom at 6:52 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really give a shit if something is true or not.

Be careful what you wish for, LiB. I mean, I don't care about your furry lifestyle, but I am not sure you want the whole world to know about it.
posted by vidur at 7:08 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe if we had looser standards political debate in Australia wouldn't be so bloody boring.

Please elaborate on what you find so boring, and how the LiB Standard of Free Speech will spice it up. I mean, apart from the License to Lie that you are going to issue.
posted by vidur at 7:15 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alright, I may have been exaggerating slightly. But I think thinks like slander and libel can be handled in civil courts. Fraud is obviously still a crime. It just feels like there are too many restrictions placed on speech, and without a broad protection for free speech those rights risk being taken away.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2011


It just feels like there are too many restrictions placed on speech, and without a broad protection for free speech those rights risk being taken away.

Well, to be completely fair, homes, you've actually failed to bring up any real examples of these restrictions as opposed to wild hyperbolic "what-ifs", nor have you really outlined examples of this kind of progressive-erosion/slippery slopes without resorting to said hyperbole. Coupled with your general ignorance about all the laws in question in any country, Australia, US, UK or other and the tendency to issue a lot of grand generalisations as fact, you can't really be surprised that other posters have laid twelve kinds of smack down on you. Why didn't you say something like the above as your first comment rather than the most recent?

I abhor slippery slope arguments. I feel like they're generally used by conservatives as a means of arguing against things that aren't actually happening. When you dip your causal chain into the hydrochloric acid of fantasy, it dissolves; I prefer to argue the facts.
posted by smoke at 7:52 PM on September 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think LiB's concern with free speech is rooted in the fact that the censors have banned a video game he wants to play.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:09 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think LiB's concern with free speech is rooted in the fact that the censors have banned a video game he wants to play.

A. No, my concern is that 'free speech' is a fundamental value of America, and one I share. Again, people were defending the decision that let the Westboro Baptist Church spew their hate speech

B. Replace 'video game' with 'book' or 'movie' and its suddenly okay? Hell why do you even accept a government censorship board?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:25 PM on September 29, 2011


So what is "free speech" to you? Is it anything that someone somewhere claims is "free speech"?

Because, fraud (speaking in a way that misrepresents facts for commercial gain) has been illegal since the founding of the nation, and that tells me the founders didn't see free speech in exactly the same, weirdly all-encompassing terms you do. Also, for many years in the US, even during the height of the cold war when American nationalistic sentiment reached historical highs, we had much stricter broadcast restrictions, including strict limits on factual misrepresentations and overt political bias.

"Free speech" hasn't been understood in the weirdly all-encompassing way your using it until fairly recently in US history (thanks Cato Institute and Justice Scalia).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:42 PM on September 29, 2011


'free speech' is a fundamental value of America, and one I share.

The people over in the US are grateful for your support, I'm sure.

Hell why do you even accept a government censorship board?

Personally? Because they do useful work in assigning ratings to things, which can help guide whether I would want to consume them and/or share them with lil ubu when he's older.

As far as banned or "refused classification" rulings are concerned, I don't particularly mind, as I have more than enough things on my "to read/watch/listen etc" backlog to last me multiple lifetimes, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything much if there's a tiny percentage of things I could potentially consume but can't under law. If I wanted it badly enough, I'm certain it wouldn't be all that hard to get around the restrictions.

Besides, things are pretty liberal these days & I honestly don't feel like there could be much that I'm missing. We've come a long way since Howl, Lady Chatterley's Lover & Henry Miller's novels were banned - something that was also the case in the freedoms-loving US of A as well, in case you didn't know.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:48 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]



Besides, things are pretty liberal these days & I honestly don't feel like there could be much that I'm missing. We've come a long way since Howl, Lady Chatterley's Lover & Henry Miller's novels were banned - something that was also the case in the freedoms-loving US of A as well, in case you didn't know.


We're always moving forward. And since one nation decided to found itself on the principles of freedom, I think other nations should move forward and do just that.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:52 PM on September 29, 2011


The other nations should move forward to 1791?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:05 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's your argument against freedom of speech? What benefit does it serve to curtail and censor things? People will still be racist and hateful. They'll just do it in the guise of 'entertainment' or with their mates down at the pub.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:08 PM on September 29, 2011


And since one nation decided to found itself on the principles of freedom, I think other nations should move forward and do just that.

This statement kind of typifies what I was talking about above, LiB. It's ahistorical, geographically cretinous and riddled with bizarre American exceptionalism.

Moreover it has literally nothing to do with the issues at hand. The conversation in your head doesn't belong here; you should be trying to engage with the actual issues and discussion here rather than stubbornly repeating non-sequiturs like this over and over.
posted by smoke at 9:11 PM on September 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't have any argument against freedom of speech. What I am more cautious about, however, is the American love of how these freedoms were written up in constitutional lists, that then enable people to litigate in strange & unusual ways. The abstractness & lack of real context in the original list is to blame, and once enshrined like that, these things are hard to remove or change.

They'd be better treated as artefacts of a late 18th century mindset, full of British & French revolutionary zeal & optimism, than things relevant to the way of the world in the 21st century. The right to bear arms is a perfect example. It was relevant perhaps in the context of the revolution, and when popular uprisings had a vague chance of defeating the military in open combat, but it's just plain stupid today.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:14 PM on September 29, 2011


I don't have any argument against freedom of speech. What I am more cautious about, however, is the American love of how these freedoms were written up in constitutional lists, that then enable people to litigate in strange & unusual ways. The abstractness & lack of real context in the original list is to blame, and once enshrined like that, these things are hard to remove or change.

That's the point. It's not negotiable. It can't be bargained away by interest groups or chipped away for 'the greater good'. Its a moral principle, and even if it may lead to some bad ends removing it leads to worse ends.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:25 PM on September 29, 2011


I see it the other way around, and as somebody concerned with slippery slopes this argument might make sense to you:

When originally enshrined, the concept was to allow for vigorous public debate, specifically to allow for political opinions that may be against the government of the time.

So far, so good.

The problem is that the privileged & educated class who came up with this noble concept weren't even thinking about the possibility that it might be applied to common guttersnipe matters. They were all about "hey, woudn't it be great if people could speak their minds about important philosophico-political matters!"

Then the slippery slope comes in. Litigation establishes that "speech" doesn't just mean getting up & saying something, or printing it, but hey - we can use this for artworks, too! Then the definition of artwork gets extended to video games, and suddenly instead of the right to free speech being about protecting people's ability to hold truth up to power, it's been twisted into allowing the sale of MechRape Warrior IV, because thats' what the Constitution says!

I'm absolutely certain that if the founding fathers were going through this exercise today, they'd be much more circumspect: "people have the right to free speech, as long as it isn't:
(a) libellious [insert entire criminal code relating to libel here]
(b) slanderous [likewise]
(c) hate speech inciting, or likely to incite, or such that a reasonable person would interpret it as inciting, or likely to incite violence [futher legal definitions, exemptions, and regulations]

In practice, all the detail is what can be found in our ever-evolving corpus of laws - that's where the rubber hits the road. And it makes no sense whatsoever for all the minutiae & grey areas of policy that are constantly being filled in, to be trumped by some guy pointing to a 200 year old piece of hemp with a few lofty statements of half-baked & poorly thought through principles thrown together in the heat of battle, saying "but - but - YOU CAN'T DO THAT, IT SAYS SO HERE!!!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:39 PM on September 29, 2011


Then the slippery slope comes in. Litigation establishes that "speech" doesn't just mean getting up & saying something, or printing it, but hey - we can use this for artworks, too! Then the definition of artwork gets extended to video games, and suddenly instead of the right to free speech being about protecting people's ability to hold truth up to power, it's been twisted into allowing the sale of MechRape Warrior IV, because thats' what the Constitution says!

...
You're actually ANGRY that the right to free speech can be 'twisted' to apply to artwork, and that the definition of artwork can again be twisted to apply to a modern new medium? Did you get angry when it started to apply to films, too?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2011


(c) hate speech inciting, or likely to incite, or such that a reasonable person would interpret it as inciting, or likely to incite violence [futher legal definitions, exemptions, and regulations]

And again, find me a 'reasonable person'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:44 PM on September 29, 2011


A reasonable person can be found on the Clapham omnibus.

And no, I'm not angry about principles being twisted to support other things. Merely pointing out the dangers of legislating abstract principles in such a way that the abstract & completely half-baked, lacking in all detail version gets cast in virtually unchangeable stone, and can trump the nuanced & detailed versions that are properly within the rights of the elected representatives of the people to legislate.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:48 PM on September 29, 2011


And no, I'm not angry about principles being twisted to support other things. Merely pointing out the dangers of legislating abstract principles in such a way that the abstract & completely half-baked, lacking in all detail version gets cast in virtually unchangeable stone, and can trump the nuanced & detailed versions that are properly within the rights of the elected representatives of the people to legislate.

I think that's their strength. Free speech is an all-encompassing principle, and it can be stretched very far.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:51 PM on September 29, 2011


So is parliamentary accountability.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:55 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas: "I'm absolutely certain that if the founding fathers were going through this exercise today, they'd be much more circumspect..."

Well, yes. This is true in almost every case. Most of them would want to fix it so we still had slaves, for one thing. I don't believe it's possible even to speak about the "founding fathers" as a cohesive group, much less talk about lofty ideals present in their minds. Those ideals were present in some way, but in a certain way it's just sheer luck that America ended up with an egalitarian, freedom-based constitution that didn't mention slavery (much) and is still largely workable.

In any case - I think there certainly are differences between the current American and Australian (as I've perceived it) attitudes toward freedom of speech.

Yes, we Americans do legislate regarding speech; we regulate it in many ways. I think LiB's example above was a good one, though - that is: I am almost sure that an organization like Westboro Baptist Church would not be allowed to exist in the UK or Australia, or at least that it would not be allowed to make the egregious kinds of protests it does. There are other examples; for instance, L Ron Hubbard had his original headquarters for Scientology in the UK, but they ran him out on a rail, effectively banning Scientology from operating in tha country. He's had some trouble from the government here in the US, too (and for good reason) but almost no American I know would think of making the principled governmental stand against Scientology that the UK did.

I bring these up because they're the kinds of edge cases that we Americans are always making that annoying proclamation about: "I don't agree with your ideas but I'll defend to the death blah blah blah." And - because frankly I can see being quite proud of living in a nation that won't suffer a Westboro Baptists or Church of Scientology to exist within its borders. Americans, for better or worse, can't fathom making these kinds of organizations or their public function illegal.

This seems to me to be tied to the deep-seated sense of paranoia that cuts through the American heart. We don't trust the government. We want to keep our own guns, run our own affairs, and for gods sake we want as absolute a freedom of speech as possible. As "self-reliants," we are less concerned about mob behavior than we probably ought to be; mostly we just want to make sure nobody mucks with our rights, and if that means that a vile racist can peddle her shit on street corners, so be it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think that paranoia & mistrust of the government is key. LiB's view seems to be "how can you possibly trust the government not to encroach on your freedoms, unless there's a Bill of Rights stopping them from doing so?"

The answer here & elsewhere seems to be "Meh, no government's perfect, but they're not that bad, either. We can trust them not to screw us around too much; after all, we elected them & we can vote them out as well"
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:17 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


A man who's book on euthanasia was banned will be speaking at the Opera House on Sunday

I think that paranoia & mistrust of the government is key. LiB's view seems to be "how can you possibly trust the government not to encroach on your freedoms, unless there's a Bill of Rights stopping them from doing so?"

Well, yes. Even the most well-meaning government will be at odds with certain people's principles, and even the nicest people will do things like, say, lock up kids in detention centres. Better to make all speech allowed than leave such an important tool in the hands of a few.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:20 PM on September 29, 2011


Excellent. So, in summary, Americans are paranoid and Australia should change its laws because manifest destiny. USA! USA! USA!
posted by pompomtom at 10:45 PM on September 29, 2011


Excellent. So, in summary, Americans are paranoid and Australia should change its laws because manifest destiny. USA! USA! USA!

Manifest destiny has nothing to do with it. A shallow parody of American exceptionalism does nothing to address my points.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:48 PM on September 29, 2011


even the nicest people will do things like, say, lock up kids in detention centres.

Well, on the bright side, the government apologised in 1988 to the 110,000 people locked up, almost 70,000 of whom were American citizens.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:54 PM on September 29, 2011


I'm sure if we play 'what country has caused more harm', you'll 'win'. You still won't prove the principle of free speech is a bad one.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:55 PM on September 29, 2011


What's your argument against freedom of speech?

This is ridiculous. Absolutely no one is arguing against freedom of speech.

Manifest destiny has nothing to do with it. A shallow parody of American exceptionalism does nothing to address my points.

Your points are largely incoherent and poorly founded.

You've failed to respond in a logical or reasonable manner to the various and extensive arguments put to you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:56 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your 'points', such as they are, have been addressed over and over again. They will be addressed again the next time you get a bee in your bonnet because someone took away your toys.

You still won't prove the principle of free speech is a bad one.

Happily, there is no nation in the world that has a functioning government and subscribes to the primary-school level notion of freedom of speech that you espouse.
posted by pompomtom at 10:58 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


And again, America has much wider protections for free speech than Australia does, and has them enshrined as a fundamental function of the law rather than assuming that an ad hoc collection of decisions and 'oh, we won't elect somebody TOO bad' will protect them.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:02 PM on September 29, 2011


...and you're welcome to them.

The same higher standard of social contract that gives you the healthcare that is the only thing you like about this country gives others some meagre protection from racial vilification.
posted by pompomtom at 11:10 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


A reasonable person can be found on the Clapham omnibus.

Wow, that just triggered a PTSD-style flashback to law school.

Carbolic smokeball, UbuRoivas?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:11 PM on September 29, 2011


Thanks, but I might just stick with a Little Creatures. I hear the government is making beer drinking mandatory.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:28 PM on September 29, 2011


mini-meet up tomorrow at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:38 PM on September 29, 2011


I'm going to Psychopaths Make the World Go Round on Sunday.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:47 PM on September 29, 2011


I might try out the Soapbox thing. Last time I went I didn't win.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:52 PM on September 29, 2011


You don't say.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:57 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


well I must say, having witness the, what, third? fourth? iteration of LiB versus the Aussies freedom of speech discussion, I'm not feeling at all enlightened. Though koeselitz did add some valuable new perspectives.
posted by wilful at 12:14 AM on September 30, 2011


Don't worry wilful, I'm sure it'll be better next time...
posted by pompomtom at 12:26 AM on September 30, 2011


I'm seriously tired of LiB's tone-deaf Australia threads.
posted by awfurby at 12:28 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Hummingbirds are not tone-deaf
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:45 AM on September 30, 2011


The topics are ok - it's the threadshitting I'm tired of.
posted by awfurby at 2:23 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


LiB: Alright, I may have been exaggerating slightly. But I think thinks like slander and libel can be handled in civil courts.

But you do realise that slander and libel are handled in civil courts in Australia, and in the UK for that matter? And that the Bolt case itself was handled in the civil courts? (As Ubu said previously, the case name of Eatock v Bolt indicates that it's a civil matter; if it was a criminal one, it would be R v Bolt, with R literally meaning the monarch ("regina")).
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:47 AM on September 30, 2011


Some Americans who fought for free speech. Constitutional amendments were apparently little help.
posted by Abiezer at 4:09 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alright, I may have been exaggerating slightly. But I think thinks like slander and libel can be handled in civil courts.

Courts? Why is there anything to go to court for? You said you have no problem with people saying things that aren't true.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're really seriously concerned about free speech rights LiB, then you should come to Florida and fight Rick Scott's administration.

Why?

His admin recently pushed through legislation that allows employers to disqualify their employees from collecting unemployment insurance benefits if the employer claims the employee on their own personal time spoke or behaved in ways that did not take the business interests of their employer into account.

That's what Free Speech is--the right to tell each other the truth as we see it without fear of being persecuted or fired.

Did you know, for example, it's a violation of Federal labor law for your boss to tell you you can't talk to your coworkers about your salary/wages? Most company employee handbooks in the US say that it's against company policy to discuss your wages with others, but they try to prohibit it anyway, preying on your ignorance.

That's what actual, serious free speech issues look like.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saul, as I understood it, the First Amendment allows a company to set speech standards for employees while they're in the building, so I'm not seeing how "please don't discuss your salary with your co-workers" is a violation as such. Now, if they were saying "don't discuss your salary with ANYONE," that'd be something else again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on September 30, 2011


It's a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The courts have upheld that view many times.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 AM on September 30, 2011


Here's one discussion of the law. Here's another explanation.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, under Federal Law, the only exception to the right to discuss salary is you can't necessarily discuss it while you're literally on the job. Otherwise, the courts have consistently held that any prohibitions on speaking with fellow employees about your wages/salary are illegal.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:14 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


But see--people generall don't even think about or notice the pernicious corporate-sponsored erosion of those kinds of actual, meaningful speech rights that people can use to organize.

They're too busy lining up to defend the right of self-serving billionaires like the Koch brothers to broadcast whatever lies or propaganda they like at full volume on as many unavoidable mass market media channels as they can afford--basically, defending their right to try to brainwash people, but completely abandoning their own rights to organize because they believe any rule--no matter how restrictive in fact of those cherished personal freedoms--is okay so long as its imposed by unaccountable private individuals with enough money to make the rules rather than by their own democratic processes.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for clearing that up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2011


"please don't discuss your salary with your co-workers"

Sorry I glossed over the finer point of your comment; yes, you were right, but most employee handbooks I've seen don't make that distinction or clarify that we do in fact have a right to talk about our salaries and wages with each other off the job.

And the Chamber of Commerce recently sued the Federal government to prevent them putting up posters at job sites to make workers aware of their rights under the NLRA, so it's pretty clear the big money actively and deliberately wants to keep people from knowing and understanding their actual free speech rights.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:17 AM on September 30, 2011


Some Americans who fought for free speech. Constitutional amendments were apparently little help.

Unions acting like entitled jerks again!
posted by Hoopo at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2011


"I don't really give a shit if something is true or not. We should be allowed to say it anyway. There's hyperbole, and exaggeration, and Herzog's 'ecstatic truth'. Maybe if we had looser standards political debate in Australia wouldn't be so bloody boring."

That's such an amazingly unexamined statement that, once again, I'm amazed that you've made it, and were it not for the gentle guidance of the moderators here, I'd tell you that in a more blunt form that let you know exactly how much intelligence I thought was behind it.

I realize when you write things like this that you are so ensconced in your bubble of privilege and stupidity that you assume that no one could ever say something that wasn't true about you that would impact you in any way, but as an example of things that have ruined lives, false allegations of rape or child molestation, even if they're ultimately unproven, have had serious and destructive impacts on scores of people, even in America. Imagine if everyone you knew suddenly believed that you were a rapist. There's no way to clear your name, especially if a national publication (such as the one Bolt works for) were not liable under tort (and criminal) statutes. Any woman you'd like to date would think you were a rapist. Any employer you'd like to work for would think you were a criminal risk.

Lies can do damage. Justice is essentially the protection from and compensation for undue damage. Ergo, justice requires certain classes of lies (notably, those that do damage) to be actionable. This is true in America, this is true in Australia, this is true in any country ruled by law, and its deficiency is a defect.

"That's the point. It's not negotiable. It can't be bargained away by interest groups or chipped away for 'the greater good'. Its a moral principle, and even if it may lead to some bad ends removing it leads to worse ends."

I do wish you'd stop pretending that you know anything about the American constitution or legal history. It's embarrassing for the rest of us Americans that do. Neither "freedom of speech," nor any of the other enumerated rights are absolute, and treating them as absolute is an idiotic fantasy usually used in the service of the powerful to gull the stupid.

"And again, find me a 'reasonable person'."

Reasonable person is a standard set in English common law, which forms the basis for nearly every judgment of disputed fact in any country, including America, that evolved from English common law.

"A shallow parody of American exceptionalism does nothing to address my points."

A shallow parody of American exceptionalism is your point.
posted by klangklangston at 12:40 PM on September 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Nuts come out after the truth has bolted
posted by Wolof at 5:34 PM on September 30, 2011


I've got sympathy with LiB's position, if not his methods.
Yes, having things like instruction in crime on the RC list rankles me. Yes, having a cloying arse of a senator keen to prescribe what morals he thinks are suitable for Australians to view on the Internet, and keep the list secret shits me up the wall.
But the response to change these is not "speech rights are inviolable, be like America!!!7!?@!", and taking that approach will regularly deliver the pile on LiB always cops.
Write letters, agitate, hound local members etc. on less controversial edge cases like euthanasia (a ban I suspect is hugely unpopular with the electorate) or the RC rating on the latest arthouse film, or no 18+ rating option for video games. These are eminently winnable battles, that will help convince the general public that there is little to fear from stronger free speech laws.
Pointing to Westboro Baptists or NAMBLA and metaphorically screaming in peoples faces that these fruits of the 1st amendment to the US constitution are proof Americans have a morally superior free speech approach will just cause that average Joe on the Clapham bus to think you are nuts.
posted by bystander at 8:35 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


looking at the Reddit thread, I'm almost starting to sympathize with the Aussies. but I'm also glad other people care about free speech that much
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:00 PM on October 3, 2011


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