“The ‘most substantial threat’ to press freedom in his five decades”

facial-discrimination-act

I will start with this from the papers today: Bill Leak cartoon probe biggest threat to press freedom.

Media proprietor Kerry Stokes has launched a blistering attack on a controversial ­investigation by the Australian Human Rights Commission over a cartoon by The Australian’s Bill Leak portraying an Aboriginal father and son.

Mr Stokes, the Seven Group executive chairman, said the probe was the “most substantial threat” to press freedom in his five decades of owning and running media businesses.

And then there is John Spooner, himself a cartoonist, asking why should a satirist like Bill Leak be forced to explain himself?. His advice:

Rather than argue against the government’s right to interfere with our freedom (they can legitimately do so in cases of criminal conspiracy for example) Leak should defend himself if possible with satire.

He should force everyone to focus on the dangerous overreach of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. After all the right to offend and insult are, in part, necessary ingredients of serious argument. How else can we combat racism? And don’t tell me about exemptions in 18D. The overall intent of the act is intimidatory. You need an expensive lawyer to rid yourself of the stigma of prosecution. Look at history. Read Ben Wilson’s The Laughter of Triumph, a life of William Hone, friend of William Hazlitt, publisher of the great cartoonist George Cruikshank, and admired by Charles Dickens.

Hone should be famous. In 1817 he courageously defended himself against charges of blasphemy and seditious libel; over a satire that offended and insulted many people. He wrote a parody of the Book of Common Prayer and the Athanasian Creed. He also libelled the Prince Regent and his corrupt government for good measure. A jury acquitted him to great public acclaim.

And to add to the defence, Mark Steyn has also again weighed in on our Human (Last) Rites Commission: Punching Back Twice as Hard (Oz version).

I’m glad to see, following the latest attempt to use Australia’s disgraceful Section 18C to throttle freedom of speech Down Under, that The Australian’s Bill Leak is introducing the concept to the Antipodes. His latest cartoon (above) features Tim Soutphommasane, the totalitarian hack who trousers a third of a million a year as Oz’s “Racial Discrimination” Commissar. Mr Leak invites Commissar Tim Jong-Un to sue him for “facial discrimination”.

Free speech should mean you can say anything you want short of incitement to violence – or, if you like, shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre – without the full weight of the law falling on your head, in fact without even the most minimal weight of the law falling on your head. According to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, under the entry Freedom of Speech, there is a lengthy discussion of the Andrew Bolt case and human rights in Australia. And in spite of Spooner’s advice, I will mention this since it seems important. According to the entry, in Australia, apparently 18C is delimited by 18D, which states:

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 the making or publishing: (i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or (ii) a fair comment on any matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

This attack on Bill Leak really does look like an underemployed HRC Commissioner trying to find some purpose in life, as discussed in August in The Oz: Tim Soutphommasane may be drumming up work as race hate cases fall.

When it comes to discrimination, context is everything. Words that might appear completely innocent can take on a very different character when the full context is understood.

Which brings me to the words of Tim Soutphommasane, the Race Discrimination Commissioner who encouraged people to complain about a cartoon by Bill Leak that appeared in this newspaper.

The commissioner advised the public that complaints should be directed to the organisation where he works, the Australian Human Rights Commission.

His attempt to drum up work for the commission was followed by a torrent of abuse against Leak, whose cartoon depicted an Aboriginal policeman returning a delinquent Aboriginal youth to his equally delinquent father. On Soutphommasane’s Facebook page, the commissioner reproduced Leak’s cartoon and invoked the heads of liability in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act: “If there are Aboriginal Australians who have been racially ­offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated, they can consider lodging a complaint under the ­Racial Discrimination Act with the commission.”

He had seemingly prejudged those complaints, which raises doubts about whether the commission itself can now deal fairly with this affair.

It appears to be his job to be offended on behalf of the community. If no one else will take offence, then he will just have to do it himself. But to be quite frank, when it comes to being offended by what other people write and say, I would rather do it myself. I don’t need or want some government agency to do it on my behalf.

WILLIAM HONE ADDITION: From areff in the comments who guides us to this book on Hone: The Triumph of Laughter. This is the description of the book at Amazon and perfectly parallel to our own situation, except that this is the supposedly more enlightened 2016 and that was back in the Dark Ages of 1817.

William Hone is the forgotten hero of the British Press. In 1817 he was compelled to defend himself against a government determined to enforce censorship. His fellow journalists, opposition MPs and the ministers believed that a verdict against Hone would silence all critical voices. It was a show trial, and Hone – a self-educated and obscure Fleet Street journalist who had to defend himself against the Lord Chief Justice and the Attorney General and in front of a jury hand-picked by the ministry – was the underdog, a supposedly easy victim for the state. Hone’s crime was ridiculing the government. He was a noted satirist, who used laughter as a weapon to destroy censorship. His humour captured the imagination of the public; his satires sold in the hundreds of thousands. They were symbols of resistance for an angry public and were genuinely feared by his enemies. The Laughter of Triumph looks at the history of the struggle for free expression against repressive laws through the life of William Hone. Could the state push the law so far that humour was a crime? Or was it the only way to subvert censorship? As Hone implored his jury on the second day of his trials, ‘Is a laugh treason? Surely not.’

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32 Responses to “The ‘most substantial threat’ to press freedom in his five decades”

  1. john constantine

    As the left is famous for repeatedly scowling:

    “That isn’t funny”.

    The great repression is coming, as a waleed fanatic told me, we don’t need to hear people disagree with waleed, as people that disagree with him are just wrong.

    [and she was a genuine global travelling, australia representing, human rights lawyer.]

  2. classical_hero

    It’s amazing we have a law on the books that is subjective, unlike every other law that has to prove you are wrong.

  3. C.L.

    I’m getting sick of newspaper editors and publishers merely complaining.
    They need to not cooperate in any way with the HRC or the press council.
    Just ignore them.
    Let’s see if the Turnbull government will arrest Bill Leak for not fronting a court.

  4. Lem

    To be fair, CL, The Australian is taking every opportunity it can to republish the Bill Leak cartoon, which is what they should do. Fairfax, on the other hand, having outed Trigg’s as a liar, have then rolled over, or been got at in some way.

    But I do agree with your sentiment about arresting Bill Leak. Let him protest an unjust law by ignoring it, and let us see if the political organisation which is the ALP/Greens/LNP coalition defenders of 18c (a law which after all serves all their political interests in so much as it threatens anyone who dares to say what they think) will have the audacity to finally show the populace what they are prepared to do.

  5. duncanm

    Does anyone have a clear idea of the processes available at the AHRC to dismiss complaints before they get anywhere?

    Triggsy was recently angling for some expansion on these powers, presumably to dismiss David L’s complaint before it blew up their faces.

    I wonder if the Leak case is the same — Tim Sourpuss has baited, some SJW bit, and now they’re stuck with it.

  6. closeapproximation

    …will have the audacity to finally show the populace what they are prepared to do.

    That would be a losing strategy.

    The populace unfortunately does not care very much for free speech principles these days.

  7. areff

    Ben Wilson’s magisterial account of Hone’s trial, “The Triumph of Laughter”, is a ripper.

    https://www.amazon.com/Laughter-Triumph-William-Fight-Press/dp/0571224709

  8. Roger

    The Orwellian named Australian Human Rights Commission is becoming quite sinister. I t won;t be long before, having shut down free speech, they begin to police thought.

    I’m reminded of a cartoon that appeared in the Brisbane Courier-Mail when it was a broadsheet of some respectability back in the days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen:

    A police car is trundling down a crowded Queen Street with a loud speaker on top, from which come the words: “You are all guilty until proven innocent.”

  9. Norman Church

    This country is rapidly turning into a Gestapo khazi.

  10. Bruce of Newcastle

    Lefties hate being laughed at.

    Righties enjoy the joke.

    Two different species. In 800,685 years the lefties will be on the surface enjoying themselves and we knuckledraggers will only come out at night to eat them.

    That is humour, in case any lefties are reading.

  11. John64

    The most substantial threat to press freedom in 50 years?

    I agree it’s outrageous but how quickly we forget!

    It was just over three years ago when The Lying Slapper and the Nuclear Milkman tried to ram new media regulation laws through the Parliament in response to the recommendations of the Finkelstein Inquiry.

    The common theme, of course, is that all legislative and regulatory attempts to restrict free speech are creations of the Left.

  12. struth

    Seeing that the stand up comedy scene is captured and now just an excuse to brain wash the young with foul mouthed left wing sickness and group think, we right wing people should at least be able to enjoy the comedy of a cartoon.
    It is silent, after all.

  13. zaphod

    Isn’t this cartoon covered by 18D ?

    RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ACT 1975 – SECT 18D

    Exemptions
    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.

  14. Lem

    …will have the audacity to finally show the populace what they are prepared to do.

    That would be a losing strategy.

    I don’t think so. Can you imagine the ridicule the Australian political classes would face for arresting a cartoonist?

  15. Lem

    Oh, and by the way, nice banner change 🙂

  16. robbie mac

    I stopped buying The Australian, but weakened today and handed over the $2.70
    for the Leak/Mitchell/Stokes articles. Gab (I think) put up some of it, but there’s a couple of wishy-washy people I plan to pass the paper on to.

  17. Grigory M

    Afternoon, Lem – wondered where you were.

  18. .

    classical_hero
    #2181497, posted on October 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm
    It’s amazing we have a law on the books that is subjective, unlike every other law that has to prove you are wrong.

    Don’t be so sure that you’re covered elsewhere by a presumption of innocence and a burden of proof exceeding a unanimous verdict beyond reasonable doubt. Yes arguably this is a civil thing but it also a state empowered “corrective” process.

  19. ella

    The next step for the Left is catergorise the adherents of a religion, Islam, as a race. Their Tim will be expanding his office to accommodate the overload of offended and insulted Muslims.

  20. Rabz

    Apropos the Spooner piece, quite frankly, if I were Leak, I would not want to be “supported” by unthinking, obsequious, freedom hating lefty scum like Pope, Loonig, Petty and Wilcox.

    Their silence speaks volumes and is entirely unsurprising.

  21. Lem

    What a fascinating afternoon I have had, and thanks for the links.

    It is quite interesting to go to some of the source material you quote, Steve, where you say there is an extensive discussion of the Bolt case. However, on reading the Stanford quote they state:

    The case prompted the Tony Abbott led Liberal government into a failed attempt to change the legislation.

    ..which is quite clearly wrong as Abbott and Brandis capitulated at once on gaining government, and never made any attempt to change the legislation, if the author of this piece had cared to check.

    But now, it will be some sort of gospel, because it is in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy!

  22. closeapproximation

    I don’t think so. Can you imagine the ridicule the Australian political classes would face for arresting a cartoonist?

    Well, not long ago I would have said “ditto” for where we are today with Leak, but go figure….the lack of interest from the political centre speaks volumes about the times we live in.

    But I hope you are right.

  23. Old School Conservative

    Steyn and Horne share many qualities and attacks by government. Especially this quote: his satires sold in the hundreds of thousands. They were symbols of resistance for an angry public and were genuinely feared by his enemies.

  24. James Hargrave

    The presence of Tim Super-sized-salary sucking on the public purse would be bad enough, given his past form, even if he simply sat in his office playing video games (he seems not have grown up beyond that stage). But administering the last rites to the whole commission would be a useful economy measure.

  25. duncanm

    Isn’t this cartoon covered by 18D ?

    oh please do stop trolling..

  26. Muddy

    Sad to see so many disrespecting Dame Triggs, our 2017 AOTY and future High Commissar of the People’s Ministry of Unification and Harmony. Your names have been noted and you can expect a knock on the door at roughly 3 a.m. We can’t tell you the day though, so until then, live in fear. You may as well confess. It is all over (your children have already told us everything we need to know).

  27. Andrew

    John64
    #2181606, posted on October 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm
    The most substantial threat to press freedom in 50 years?

    I agree it’s outrageous but how quickly we forget!

    It was just over three years ago when The Lying Slapper and the Nuclear Milkman tried to ram new media regulation laws through the Parliament in response to the recommendations of the Finkelstein Inquiry.

    The common theme, of course, is that all legislative and regulatory attempts to restrict free speech are creations of the Left.

    Correct – the HRC has been there for decades as has 18C. But TLS tried to put the ENTIRE meeja and blogosphere under her direct control, and not just for “offensive” or “racist” stuff but ANYTHING the govt didn’t like. Many countries have / had until recent repeal 18C-style legislation. Only a very lucky few like KSA and DPRK have that type of govt control.

  28. Louis

    You know the next Federal Labor government will make Triggs Governor-General.

    They would have already done so if the public hadn’t been so rude as to not vote them in last election.

    All our Liberal politicians have proved that they too are part of problem. This sh*t is happening on their watch, just as the whole collection of meta-data thing passed on their watch.

    The commission and the ABC have only grown bolder under Abbott and Malcom.

  29. Dana

    Doesn’t this cartoon refer to the aftermath of the Stolen Generation? People have been stripped of their personal responsibilities by the destruction of their families. Fathers not knowing their own children because the State took that responsibility away from them? Yet, the Australian government is still looking to blame its victims for their hardship. What issue can be taken with this interpretation of the cartoon? What issue should be taken with any cartoon in Australia? What English sentence can’t be interpreted in a multitude of ways? When you lose your freedom to speak, you lose your freedom to call others for help. Protect free speech.

  30. Jennifer

    Not contempt with his vile racism Bill leak is now slandering a public servant. He should be sued for defamation.

    The press in this country is a disgrace. It shouldn’t be free.

  31. Jennifer

    Once again conservatives putting up a false martyr campaign on behalf a bigoted cartoonist. All that the rights beloved free speech has done has transferred power from governments to the media corporations such as the Murdoch press which is why the Australia fills it pages with racist stereotypes and smear campaigns against minorities and public servants rather than doing proper journalism and investigating and discussing real policy issues. But of course the right would think like that because safe in their expensive North Sydney beachfront houses they never have to experience the sorts of vilification and smear that people like leak throw as Indigenous Australians, Muslims, Gay and Transgender Australians and everyone else who doesn’t look like them.

    The conservative victimhood narrative over the loss of so called “free speech” is just a method of protecting the privileged and powerful.

    The common theme, of course, is that all legislative and regulatory attempts to restrict free speech are creations of the Left

    Both sides of politics engage in restrictions on speech.

    The Government of Singapore heavily censors it’s press and has much stricter racial harmony laws than does Australia and it is more or less centre right.

    The Joh Bjelke-Petersen government in Queensland brought in strict anti-protests laws and very contemptuous towards the press.

    You know the next Federal Labor government will make Triggs Governor-General

    And perhaps the right wants to make Bill Leak or Andrew Bolt Governor-General. At least Triggs, a highly accomplished respectable lawyer and academic is actually qualified for the role and would make a good Governor General unlike those two.

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