The Talking Point: Gagging for Freedom
The Federal Court action against columnist Andrew Bolt has sparked a heated debate between those who believe that his comments contravene the Racial Discrimination Act and those who argue that the legal action is an assault on freedom of speech and democracy.
Whether you agree or disagree with Bolt, the debate has created compelling dichotomies, pitting freedom of speech against censorship, racial discrimination against political correctness. Objective opinions are muddied by subjective reactions to the personalities involved – divisive personalities like Bolt and Geoff Clark. Bolt’s writings are deliberately provocative – but does that mean he should be silenced?
In this Talking Point discussion, our panel of Jonathan Green, Bernard Keane, Leslie Cannold and James Allan consider whether we have a right to be free from offense.
How can we balance freedom laws with moral principles, and where do we draw the line on our tolerance of hate speech? As Allan says — and this lively session demonstrates — “people don’t agree”.
Is free speech for ‘elites’ who are able to navigate the costly judicial system? And is what’s at stake in the Bolt case more than a hefty legal bill?
Jonathan Green has been a working journalist since the late 1970s. This makes him both very old and reasonably experienced. After an early degree-ending flirtation with public radio, the bulk of Jonathan’s career has been spent in newspapers, beginning with a cadetship at the Canberra Times and taking in a small Cook’s tour of Australian dailies: the Melbourne Herald, the Herald Sun, the Sunday Herald, the Sunday Age and the Age. In mid-2015 he was appointed as editor of the literary quarterly Meanjin.
Bernard has been Crikey’s correspondent in Canberra since 2008; he writes on politics, media and economics.
James Allan is the Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland.