Waleed Aly does not deserve a free speech prize


Liberty Victoria have just announced that broadcaster Waleed Aly will receive their annual free speech award, the Voltaire Award.

Notably, he was not awarded the prize for actually supporting free speech, but rather his “contributions to many areas crucial to public life,” including on the topics of terrorism and treatment of refugees.

Aly is not being awarded for his views on free speech because he doesn’t actually support Voltaire’s axiom: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

In a 2013 lecture, after giving the cursory statements in favour of free expression, he argued for retaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He used the metaphor of the free market to argue against free speech, misusing the idea of ‘market power’ to silence voices he considers powerful:

If free speech is meant to be analogous to the free market, if bad ideas are to be vanquished by good ones in the contest of ideas, then what happens where that contest scarcely exists? Really, it’s like an abuse of market power: a kind of market distortion. There is at the very least a case to be made for regulating speech in these circumstances to ensure that the discourse of the socially empowered is held accountable in some way.

He, of course, seems to miss the point that government intervention in the free speech ‘market’ is an exercise of social power by the powerful, silencing ideas one group happens to find distasteful.

Aly went on to say that society should regulate the tone of inflammatory ideas:

We can also require that, particularly in the case of dangerously inflammatory ideas, that they are conducted with a certain tone that reduces the likelihood of some manner of social explosion.

Liberty Victoria’s decision to award a free speech prize to someone who does not support free speech makes a mockery of the supposedly prestigious prize.


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