Sassoon: section 18C is simplistic, censorious, illiberal

gabriel-sassoon

Saturday’s Australian carried a powerful opinion piece by Gabriel Sassoon on the importance of freedom of speech:

The measure of a society’s commitment to free speech is the extent to which it protects offensive, unpopular speech. Free speech is hard: it has any meaning only if it protects the most virulent and obnoxious of views.

Disturbingly, it has become more and more clear that many Australians wish to protect only speech that we find innocuous.

Watching the section 18C debate unfold from out here in the Australian diaspora has been troubling.

Having spent some years in the US, where I helped set up a human rights organisation focusing on some of the most repressive closed societies, the absence of a serious constitutional and cultural commitment to free speech in Australia seems especially glaring.

No American state or federal legislature would have dared enact a provision like 18C. Its noble public policy goals are clearly outweighed by the fundamental right to free speech and, anyway, its terms are overbroad and its exemptions are limited.

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