Freedom of speech

IPA Poll: Most support 18C change

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the IPA has found that – of those that have an opinion – most support a change to section 18C that would remove the words “offend” and “insult”. This was covered in The Australian by Joe Kelly today:

A new poll shows a majority of Australians disapprove of the Human Rights Commission for its pursuit of The Australian and Bill Leak over a political cartoon, while there is also widespread support for an overhaul of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs shows 64 per cent of respondents disapproved of the HRC investigating a “news­paper cartoonist” because an individual had found a cartoon offensive or insulting.

Of the 1000 people surveyed between last Thursday and Sunday, fewer than one in five (19 per cent) approved of the probe while 17 per cent said they didn’t know.

IPA executive director John Roskam said the poll showed “two-thirds of Australians know what is happening is wrong” and argued the results showed “widespread support” for restoring freedom of speech.

“It is outrageous in a free country that any citizen should be forced to justify their political opinion to the government,” he said. “Labor and the Greens claim that freedom of speech is ‘not a mainstream issue’ is just wrong. The public understands the government should not censor Bill Leak’s cartoon.”

The poll shows only 15 per cent of those older than 50 approved of the commission investigating a cartoonist, and only 17 per cent of those aged between 35 and 49.

The 64 per cent opposition to the commission’s investigation into The Australian and Leak is higher than a Newspoll recently that showed 57 per cent of respondents opposed the lawsuit against university students under 18C.

Under that action, which was rejected by the Federal Circuit Court, students at the Queensland University of Technology were being sued for $250,000 for commenting on Facebook about segregation after they were requested to leave an indigenous-only room.

The Galaxy poll also surveyed attitudes towards changing section 18C. It found 45 per cent of those surveyed approved of changing 18C so it was no longer unlawful to “offend” or “insult” someone based on their race or ethnicity, while 38 per cent ­opposed removing the terms.

facebooktwitter

Albrechtsen on the “cult of taking offence”

janet-albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen had an excellent article in The Australian today on the dangerous “cult of taking offence” ($) stifling free expression in the West:

To be sure, America is the home of the modern-day propensity to find offence. If this was a cult called Scientology, progressives would be carefully deconstructing its concerning presence in modernity. But the cult of taking offence is a slyer virus because it is largely unchecked. And it’s running rife on university campuses, where it threatens to do the most damage.

… The cult of taking offence has become a determined game of what Jonathan Rauch has called the “offendedness sweepstakes”, and it keeps lowering the bar on what words, ideas and freethinking analysis are to be mowed down to protect the hold identity politics has over academe. Political correctness, the soul brother of identity politics, may have started out briefly in some quarters as a sweet-sounding search for a very civil utopia imbued with respect for minorities. Now it is the weapon of choice in the pursuit of power and control over ideas, words, books, teaching and much more.

Students seek “safe spaces” to avoid ideas they don’t like and even comedians are not welcome: Chris Rock no longer appears on campus because students are more interested in not offending anyone than sharp humour that may offend. Jerry Seinfeld has said he has been warned to stay off campuses too because they’re too PC.

And the result, best described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, has been the coddling of the American mind where emotional reasoning now determines the limits of university debates. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness,” they write. “It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong” and must apologise or be punished for committing the offence.

This made-in-America phen­om­e­non is no longer an only-in-America one. Students studying archeology at University College London were recently given permission to leave class if they encounter “historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising” — in other words, if they are freaked out by bones.

The coddling of the Australian student mind is under way too. Last week at the University of NSW a well-meaning lecturer teaching a class on 20th-century European history told his students he felt obliged to issue a trigger warning about material they would cover. At the same university last year, a lecturer teaching a course on terrorism and religion issued a trigger warning too. Isn’t the trigger in the title? Isn’t history replete with traumatic events?

The Australian asked UNSW, the University of Sydney, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian National University in Canberra about their policies, formal or informal, about trigger warnings. Those that responded issued bland comments about having no formal policy, with some offering statements such as this one from Melbourne University: “We encourage academics to be sensitive to student needs and some may choose to give warnings about confronting content.” Or this from Merlin Crossley, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor education: “Some of our academics and teaching teams may choose to provide trigger or content warnings depending on course materials and in some cases possible confidential sensitivities of their students.”

In 2017 Monash University will introduce what it calls “a radical and far-reaching reform of our education and pedagogy” involving an “optional inclusion of content warnings where appropriate”.

… Indeed, there are few signs of Australian academics trying to ward off the American-born disease taking hold on our campuses. Quite the contrary. QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told this newspaper last month that the university did not choose to be associated with the current public debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That’s unfortunate because section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, is the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle open debate and infantilise students.

… Where does it end? That depends on where we start when it comes to freedom of expression, and currently too many self-indulgent Westerners are starting in entirely the wrong place.

Read the full article here.

facebooktwitter

How much does it cost to tell a joke in the UK?

It’ll be £2,000 ($3450)!

That’s what former England footballer Paul Gascoigne found out after he made a tasteless joke about a personal security guard at a show earlier this year.

Gascoigne has pleaded guilty to racially aggravated abuse in a British court, and will be forced to pay a fine for his misdeeds.

The BBC reports that the anti-joke judge expressed his approval that Gascoigne was prosecuted in the case.

Gascoigne has denied that he is racist, and apologised stating that he did not intend to cause offence.

However, under UK law that’s apparently not enough. This case sets an extraordinary precedent, dragging people through courts for making a joke!

It’s no longer clear what jokes are and are not acceptable. A judge can now arbitrarily declare what types of humour is acceptable.

As Brendan O’Neill explains in The Spectator:

[The judge] went on to tell Gazza: ‘We live in the 21st century — grow up with it or keep your mouth closed.’ This captures the tyrannical essence of the state’s clampdown on hate speech. What is being said here is that if you have not fully imbibed today’s mainstream moral outlook — in this case that it’s bad to tell racial jokes, in other cases that you shouldn’t mock Islam, make offensive gags on Twitter, or even engage in ‘uninvited verbal contact with a woman — then you should not speak publicly. You should STFU, keep your warped ideas and humour and morality to yourself, thanks. And if you don’t, then expect a knock on the door from the cops, a fine, and maybe jail. This is profoundly illiberal. Under the cover of tackling ‘hate speech’, everything from people’s humour to their moral attitudes to our everyday conversation is being intensively policed and sometimes punished. The seemingly PC war on racist, sexist and Islamophobic language has opened the door to state monitoring of thought, speech and behaviour.

facebooktwitter

Nobody actually distressed? Just say it anyway!

uni_melb_welcome

An Institute of Public Affairs freedom of information request has revealed that our universities are seeking to protect students from distress – even when it’s not clear anyone’s feelings have actually been hurt.

Back in April a furore erupted at the University of Melbourne after anti-Islam graffiti was sprawled on campus. The offensive writing included the phrases “Islam is not a race”, “Freedom of Speech”, and “Stop the Mosques”.

The graffiti was discovered before 7.30am, and immediately wiped off by students, as well as university cleaners.

Nevertheless, the little bit of chalk instigated frenzied activity within the highest echelons of the university, the IPA’s freedom of information request has discovered.

Just after midday a teleconference was convened with the chancellery, security, cleaning and media. The student union and the university co-ordinated statements.

For maximum effect the university put a statement on Facebook in the vice-chancellor’s name:

Many are aware a number of offensive slogans were written in chalk on the Parkville campus today. While the University community moved quickly to identify and remove offensive messages, they still have caused distress.

Interestingly, however, before putting out the statement the university leadership was informed by email that:

No students have come forward to UMSU (the student union) expressing personal distress arising from the chalkings and hopefully, given the very prompt cleaning… few people witnessed the slogans.

Despite no actual reports of personal distress and a quick cleaning process, the university felt the need to release a statement claiming the opposite.

The university simply assumed that somebody must have been distressed. And, as a communications strategy, published a statement accordingly.

In fact, it is likely the mass publicizing of the graffiti, giving it an audience far beyond that it was ever naturally going to achieve, may have helped establish distress that otherwise did not exist.

This series of events signals a worrying developing culture at our universities.

University administrators are being forced to spend hours of their day not on teaching and education, but rather responding to relatively minor cases of graffiti.

Meanwhile, Australian academics are using trigger warnings, seeking to protect students from emotional responses in class. It is no longer about resilience to challenging ideas, it’s about covering students with bubble wrap from the realities of life outside campus.

facebooktwitter

Waleed Aly does not deserve a free speech prize

waleed-aly1

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.

facebooktwitter

Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016

One particular honour stood out for me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours:

The Honourable Roman FINKELSTEIN QC… For distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education as an academic, to jurisprudence in the fields of commercial and competition law, and to professional organisations.

As Sinclair Davidson notes at the Catallaxy Files:

Ray Finkelstein – the man who tried to introduce media censorship in Australia at the behest of the previous Labor government – has been honoured with the Order of Australia by a Coalition government.

Simply astonishing.

On a brighter note though was the Knighthood awarded to conservative intellectual Roger Scruton in the UK’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. Among many other things, Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at the IPA’s 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium, on liberty and democracy:

facebooktwitter

The state has no business policing emotion

Brendan O’Neill in Spiked on how the state has no business policing emotion:

We should bristle and balk as much at the idea of ‘hate speech’ as we do at the idea of thoughtcrime…

… the category of hate speech is an extremely elastic tool for the repression of ideas. It has spread from curtailing ideas of racial superiority to suppressing expressions of religious hatred. Some Scandinavian countries want to outlaw misogynistic speech. On campuses there are clampdowns on transphobic speech. Anyone who says that a person with a penis is a man can now be branded a ‘hate speaker’ and find himself No Platformed. So even saying ‘men are men and women are women’ has been encapsulated in the ideological category of hate speech. Normal, widely held beliefs are casually rebranded ‘hatred’.

… Once you accept that some ideas are beyond the pale, once you cross that rubicon, then ultimately no idea is safe, because every idea can, at some level, be considered as offensive or experienced as hateful.

… Hatred is an emotion. It might not be the best emotion, but it’s an emotion nonetheless. And when we allow figures of authority to control emotion, to fine people for their emotions, to imprison people for their emotions, then we enter the realm of tyranny. It completes the state’s control of the individual. It expands state power from the public sphere of discussion into the psychic sphere of thought and feeling. It invites policing not only of political sentiment but of deep feeling. It is a profound assault on the freedom of the individual.It’s time to get serious about freedom of speech. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of ideas. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of hatred. ‘Hate speech is not free speech!’, people say. But it is. By its very definition, free speech must include hate speech. Speech must always be free, for two reasons: everyone must be free to express what they feel, and everyone else must have the right to decide for themselves whether those expressions are good or bad. When the EU, social-media corporations and others seek to make that decision for us, and squash ideas they think we will find shocking, they reduce us to the level of children. That is censorship’s greatest crime: it infantilises us. Let us now reassert our adulthood, our autonomy, and tell them: ‘Do not presume to censor anything on our behalf. We can think for ourselves.’

Read the whole article here.

facebooktwitter

Even The Economist is acknowledging the global free speech problem

economist-front-page-smThis week’s Economist has an important expose on threats to free speech across the world.

The edition explores multiple dimensions of attacks on free speech: repression by governments, non-state actors enforcing censorship by assassination, the colliding of the American mind on campus, and the idea that certain people and groups have a right to not be offended.

Continue Reading →

facebooktwitter