September 28th, 2011 at 12:55pm
Today’s ruling in the Federal Court is a worry. It may very well be legally accurate (and I make no comment on its legal accuracy) but it spells out a very worrying precedent in this country.
HERALD Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has lost an action brought in the Federal Court in which the columnist was accused of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act.
Bolt was found to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Nine aboriginal applicants brought a class-action against Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times claiming Bolt wrote they sought professional advantage from the colour of their skin.
In concluding the eight day proceedings, counsel for the plaintiffs conceded Bolt’s writings did not incite “racial vilification or racial hatred”, rather they “constituted highly personal, highly derogatory and highly offensive attacks” on the nine individuals.
This ruling spells out in clear legal judgement that it is an offence in this country to offend someone. It has long been true in this country that we don’t actually have a right to freedom of speech as such, but that we have generally accepted that we are able to speak our mind with the exception of laws relating to defamation. For a very long time we have accepted this as being “fair enough”…but now I really do start to wonder.
How can a society be free if its citizens are not free to exchange thoughts and ideas? There is clearly no freedom of expression if merely offending someone constitutes a criminal act, and in the free exchange of ideas on controversial subjects, the fact is that people will occasionally be offended by the thoughts of others. I am very worried by the fact that the people who are offended now have a clearly defined legal ability to take somebody to court for offending them when, I believe, in a free society the appropriate recourse for being offended is to argue and disagree with the person who caused the offence.
In a free society, one should have the right to disagree with others, but one should not have the right to avoid being offended; one should have the right to seek legal recourse for defamation, but not for being offended.
Freedom of speech, which I admit never truly existed in this country, is officially dead, however it can be revived. I do believe that this country needs, enshrined in law and preferably the constitution, the right to freedom of speech, if it is to have any hope of long-term success as a free country. This may take time, so to start with in the short term, laws which inhibit freedom of speech such as the Racial Discrimination Act need to be repealed or amended.
Today’s ruling, no matter how legally accurate it may be, scares me greatly. It scares me because I can see the consequences that this type of law will have on this country, and it scares me because I worry about my own safety as a person who happens to have an opinion. It, sadly, adds to my reasons for wanting to seek freer lands.
I hold out hope that this ruling helps to pave the way for the citizens of this great country to stand up for freedom of speech and to do what is needed to protect it.
I hold out hope because, for the moment at least, one can hope, and one can dream, but one apparently can’t talk about it for fear of a court ruling that someone else was offended by it. What utterly ridiculous and dangerous times we are living in.