Why Caroline is wrong about Cory

March 26, 2018

Andrew Bolt has come to the defence of Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi writing in his Herald Sun blog:

“Caroline Overington makes some good points about the ABC calling a conservative a "c..t", but also a very bad  one:

“Bernardi is saying he wants to go after the ABC not on free speech grounds per se but for a lapse in taste, a fall in standards, collapsing manners and so on.

What a crock...

You don’t get to pick and choose. If you’re a conservative, then you’re for free speech, including vulgar speech.

That argument is surely wrong.”

"In fact, Overington mistakes being 'for free speech' with being 'for' whatever anyone then chooses to use their free speech to say. She confuses the right with the content.

Being 'for' free speech surely does not mean you cannot criticise bad speech. Surely I can be 'for' your right to speak, without then having to be 'for' everything you then choose to say and how you say it.

Similarly, I can be 'for' a free vote without being 'for' the choice you make with that vote. For instance, I am for democracy, yet am appalled that a third of German voters once voted for the Nazis.

In this case, Bernardi's support for free speech cannot mean that Bernardi loses forever his freedom to criticise the ABC for using foul language.

Nor can it mean that he or other defenders of free speech lose their freedom to criticise should the ABC, for instance, promote hatred of Jews, praise terrorists, lie about global warming or publish panegyrics for Castro.

Nor, by extension, does it mean free speech defenders can't even tell their own children to stop use foul or mean language.

Overington must know this. She attacks Bernardi from the stance of a free speech defender, yet has herself criticised the ABC for favouring Muslim women who choose to cover their hair, thus promoting their conservative form of Islam.

She also supported the sacking of Mark Latham from Sky News on the grounds that he'd been rude to the point of defamation- exactly analogous to Bernardi now wanting the sacking of ABC staff who were even ruder.

That does not make Overington herself a free-speech hypocrite. It means that she knows that she, at least, is entitled to use her own free speech to criticise bad speech, despite defending free speech in principle.

So what is that principle?

It means in this case that the ABC staff who called Kevin Bailey a "c..t" on air should be free to do so without the state jailing or fining them, or ordering their works be censored - as two of my columns on race politics were. And as far as I can tell, Bernardi has not called for these staff to be so prosecuted.

Indeed, if these ABC "comedians" had abused Bailey like this on a YouTube clip or in a comedy festival show or in their own homes, I doubt Bernardi would even bother complaining.

But if we want the state to butt out of debates, we actually have a greater responsibility as individuals to police them ourselves. We don't want the state to police language and opinions, but we don't want nobody at all to determine our community manners and mores.

That settling of manners, though, is often safest done in through debate rather than the law - and most certainly when it comes to free speech.

That way the enforcement leaves plenty of room for dissenters to say as they please and suffer nothing more than social consequences, rather than legal ones.

Let some ABC comedian scream "c..t". Bernardi will not want him jailed. But Bernardi - and I - will object to paying him through our taxes. We will not want to fund an ABC that so trashes the kind of cultural standards we want - and which we collectively fund the ABC to actually uphold.

If free speech defenders can't insist on some such standards then it seems Overington is saying they cannot defend any at all. As free speech defenders we must apparently say nothing even if the ABC defends the Holocaust.

That cannot be what free speech means. And I am sure Overington knows it. After all, she is a defender of free speech who here attacks even the inoffensive speech of Bernardi."

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