Freed speech is under serious threat in Australia

June 03, 2018

The Conservative Party is a staunch defender of free speech and the following opinion piece by conservative commentator Piers Akerman demonstrates how strained that essential democratic freedom becoming in Australia.

After more than a year the Australian Press Council begrudgingly found that Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph did not breach its standards in publishing an article Piers Akerman wrote about the serially objectionable Yassmin Abdel-Magied, the hijabed heartthrob of the luvvies’ kasbah.

Piers Akerman writes in the same publication:

"The full adjudication is worth reading not so much for its finding but for the perceptions of bias conveyed, unwittingly perhaps, by the words its author used.

This may be an example of the unconscious bias we are now told by the hysterical purveyors of universal victimhood lies within all who are not , to use their terminology, woke.

In my column on April 30, 2017, I used Abdel-Magied and her popularity with the multicultural lobby to highlight the fatuous nature of the multiculturalism policy that has sadly balkanised Australia.

The divisive policy does not bring us all together as happy little Vegemites, even when we sway and nod to the 1987 song I Am Australian with its meant-to-bind-us-all-together refrain “I Am, You Are, We Are Australian”. Instead, we are this-and-that-and-the other but don’t you dare mistake me for something else or you’ll wind up before one of the aggressive identity courts.

But a pin-up poster girl for identity politics like Abdel-Mageid considerably erodes the case for multi-kulti.

A young, outspoken female Muslim who daringly sought advice from Islamic hardliners and who tweeted against Anzac Day would have been catnip to her sponsors at the Left-leaning ABC and DFAT, yet to meet a white person who was not an ageing neo-colonialist pale male.

Calling her, as I did in the piece, a “silly Muslim woman”, “stupid” and someone who “was always bound to utter great inanities”, “a fool”, a “nonentity” and a “halfwit” was always going to enrage those who had placed her on a pedestal.

And so the compliant Press Council indulged an anonymous complainant agreeing to hear an empty claim and subjected me to an ordeal by distorted process that occupied me and tied up precious resources of this paper.

The complaint should never have been accepted but was because the council is yet another  institution which has succumbed to all of the Leftist political fads from climate change to identity politics.

That it has fallen so far below the standards which prevailed when I sat as an occasional alternate member during the 1980s and 1990s is largely because the major publishers which provide the bulk of its budget are frightened (with good reason) that repressive Labor governments would (as has been seriously threatened) impose draconian state censorship.

Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard and her communications minister Stephen Conroy successfully managed to bully the media into dropping inquiries into Gillard’s 1990s involvement in providing legal advice about setting up a fund that was then used by her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson as a union slush fund.

Then she imposed the pointless but punitive inquiry by former Federal Court judge Ray  Finkelstein QC, to demonstrate that Labor was capable of imposing a regime of unprecedented media regulation.

The only major newspaper in the country that doesn’t belong to the Press Council is The West Australian, which has found a most satisfactory structure to deal with legitimate complaints.

It should have been obvious to all that the Press Council was struggling under the weight of its ideological baggage when in May last year under the former chairman, Professor David Weisbrot, the deputy chairman of aggressive Leftist lobby group GetUp!, Carla McGrath, was appointed a public member of the council.

In enthusiastically announcing her appointment the APC wrongly described her as the first-ever indigenous appointee. It later issued a correction.

There had been two others previously Colin Burke MBE 1982-1991 and Natascha McNamara AM MBE as an alternate 1992-1997 and as a full member 1997-2003.

From memory neither identified with any activist organisations, unlike McGrath, and that may be why they disappeared down the council’s corporate memory hole.

In announcing her appointment the council noted her “strong record of engagement in advocacy”. But neither that reference or her deputy chairmanship of GetUp! didn’t stop the near unanimous endorsement by the council.

These savants of media and principle did nothing till attention was drawn by NewsWorks Media, a publishers’ industry body, in June last year to the likely conflict between McGrath’s appointment and the council’s own stated commitment to “independent scrutiny”.

Only then did the council move against her and only then did her champion, Professor Weisbrot, resign.

The conflict of interest should have been obvious from the start but it wasn’t to a council largely blinded by the dazzling light of virtue signalling political correctness.

The council in its finding on my column stated “it is in the public interest in freedom of speech that vigorous public debate be permitted, even when expressed in extreme terms, as is the case here”.

If the Press Council wants to know what “extreme terms are” it should consult Abdel-Mageid’s adviser of choice, the Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir.

But it is more than mere “public interest” in freedom of speech that demands that vigorous public debate be permitted.

Freedom of speech is one of the guarantors of liberal democracy.

When bodies such as the Press Council talk about permissions, it is implicit that permission can be withdrawn or denied. This is not what press councils in modern freedom-loving democracies are about but it is what so-called press councils in totalitarian states well understand.

This council reveals itself in its own words. Orwell would be proud."

Picture: Piers Akerman

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