Kenny: smothering free exchange of ideas a dangerous path

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Chris Kenny wrote an excellent piece for The Australian on Saturday discussing the hypocrisy occurring in the section 18C debate:

[The Left] seem to ration their liberalism depending on the perceived partisan leanings of the proponent or defendant. The acquiescence of the permanent oppositional moral-political community exists even though they count as their own large elements of the Canberra press gallery and journalists elsewhere. They give free speech short shrift.

When the Gillard government, in a fit of pique and paranoia, called an inquiry into the print media, then drafted legislation for de facto regulation of newspaper content, it won support, incredibly, from many journalists particularly at the ABC.

Think of the Abbott government introducing laws to regulate print media content.

And let us pretend laws against religious persecution are used to convict Marr over columns about Tony Abbott and the Catholic Church, so that he is forced to apologise and the offending columns are banned.

It is not hard to imagine the justifiable and thunderous outrage from the Left.

After all, many are already screaming like banshees at the very mention of holding the ABC to its existing charter.

Left or right, centrist or apathetic, we all have an interest in resisting insidious encroachments on free speech.

UPDATE: The Australian editorial of the same day was also extremely solid:

In addition to stifling the argy bargy that is central to democratic life, heavy handed discrimination laws undermine democracy by entrusting inordinate discretion to unelected judges. Justice Mordecai Bromberg, for example, who ruled against News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt under the Section 18C of the RDA in 2011 has been upfront about the fact he sees the judiciary as a way of delivering what he describes as “social justice”.

At heavy public expense, such legislation creates lawyers picnics, mostly of little benefit to taxpayers. Canadian lawyers, for example, do well squabbling over what constitutes “hateful or contemptuous” expression about ethnic minorities and faith groups under their Human Rights Act.

Australia has no reason to be complacent about freedom of speech. Hundreds of prohibitions govern the things we are not allowed to know. And we rank 28th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index. The further erosion of freedom of speech is too high a price to pay for legislation erroneously intended to stifle the rougher edges of our robust debate. Trying to legislate for good manners or to prevent hurt invariably backfires. The government is right to abolish Section 18C of the RDA.

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