Testing Freedom’s Limits

Image of an anti-war protester in Sydney, 2005, via WikiCommons

Image of an anti-war protester in Sydney, 2005, via WikiCommons

A video claiming to represent the true story behind the Fortescue Mining Group/native title affair has been published on a new website called The True Yindjibarndi Story. Crikey has reported that Fortescue Mining Group is behind the video and the website. It’s the iron ore mining giant’s response to a controversial video published last week by IndyMedia.

Both videos are wildly differing accounts of a native title meeting held last month in Roebourne, Western Australia. The publisher of the original video claimed, “The video shows the actions of this miner in trying to entrap and bully traditional owners into a land use ‘Agreement’ that will see massive disturbance of country and will swindle generations of Yindjibarndi people.” The Fortescue website counters, “On April 4 a misleading, heavily edited video of a [sic] important community meeting was circulated online. It is important that the facts are told.”

The original video allegedly shows Fortescue trying to push through a deal worth more than $10 million for their Solomon Hub mining project despite the concerns of Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC). Fortescue’s legal team reportedly asked Vimeo to remove the video because it “incites racial hatred”. It also claimed the video contravened state and federal laws, including Western Australian defamation laws. Vimeo removed the video, but it has since been uploaded to YouTube. Reforms to federal defamation law passed in 2005 make truth an allowable defense and restrict the ability of most corporations to sue for defamation.

The story is one of several recent manifestations of the age-old tug-o'-war between freedom of speech and censorship. We’ve covered the legal proceedings in which News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt is alleged of having written two blog posts that were racially discriminatory against a group of indigenous Victorians, and the unlikely allies that have rallied to his side in the name of freedom of expression. Further afield, China’s crackdown on dissidents has claimed high profile figures like Ai Weiwei, Australian based novelist Yang Hengjun and even Bob Dylan.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently asked four figures from publishing, academia, the law and politics about the need for absolute freedom of speech. Their responses were as varied as they were compelling - the Griffith Review’s Julianna Schultz concluded, “Freedom of speech is not absolute, but essential.”

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