There’s free speech, and there’s dragging the ABC into the sewer

March 26, 2018

It’s a funny old world where calling your co-workers “guys” at any number of companies — including our national airline — is enough to earn you a talking-to from HR, but dropping the c-bomb on the national broadcaster wins you virtue points from every progressive from Paddington to Perth.

And as James Morrow writes in an opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph, Australian Conservatives' leader Cory Bernardi stepped into this argument for a very good reason:

"In the lead-up to Victoria’s Batman by-election, the ABC’s Tonightly With Tom Ballard program ran a skit in which they decided the electorate should be renamed “Batman-Is-A-“ … and, being a family newspaper, this column will leave the last word to your imagination.

Not content to convict grazier John Batman, for whom the division is named, in a posthumous trial over his treatment of local Aboriginals in the 19th century, the Ballard team went on to mock the Australian Conservatives party candidate, Kevin Bailey, calling him the same damn thing.

But there are jokes, and there are jokes. And there’s free speech, and there’s dragging the ABC into the sewer.

Which is why it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Senator Bernardi called for someone’s head after the airing of the Ballard sketch.

Nor was it only Bernardi who thought Ballard’s routine over the top: Liberal and Labor MPs also condemned what amounted to a puerile and partisan taxpayer-funded attack on Bailey.

Yet, the reaction of progressive ABC partisans (and Bernardi haters — there’s a lot of overlap) being called out for what essentially amounts to deploying a misogynist term of abuse to foment political division was so over the top it’s a wonder half of Twitter didn’t have to take to their fainting couch.

The aptly-named Pedestrian website editorialised, “In this completely normal and definitely not insane country we call Australia, Cory Bernardi wants the ABC staffer responsible for a comedy sketch in which his failed candidate was called a (expletive deleted) to be fired.”

Hipster political website Junkee concurred, saying “Cory Bernardi loves free speech … except when it hurts his feelings.”

If you picked up a whiff of dishonesty in this defensive pose, which is defensive precisely because it knows it is wrong, you’re not alone. Calling a pollie the c-word would never be tolerated at a commercial network.

ACMA will now decide if the act breaches its code for broadcasters. But to hear some people tell it, it should be anything goes at the progressive-captured ABC.

In recent years the progressive left has shifted from being entirely — and honourably — on the free speech side of the debate to become the sort of censorious scolds they used to mock as living behind white picket fences with well-manicured lawns.

Don’t believe me?

Just try bringing a conservative speaker to, for example, the University of Sydney, where organisers are told they have to pay huge and often prohibitive fees to cover security costs.

As members of the colourful business identity community might say, nice freedom of speech you got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.

Because here’s the thing: Sensible people understand that one can be an absolutist on free speech and also think the national broadcaster shouldn’t provide a platform for abuse and saturation c-bombing.

Supporters of Ballard’s sketch aren’t arguing for liberty to speak their mind, they’re pushing — as progressives do in any and everywhere — to demolish any rule, standard or guideline that might be considered that other c-word: conservative.

If one were conspiratorially minded, one might think there was a whole concocted strategy at work.

Make offence-taking an art form.

Goad conservatives into making a stand for free speech.

Use that stance to checkmate them into allowing public discourse to be wholly politicised and driven further into the gutter.

I don’t know; there’s probably a word for people who try that sort of … stunt."

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