The Australianthis morningis running Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson's argument that French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo "could not be printed in Australia under existing restrictions on free speech". Those restrictions, according to Wilson and the Australian, are contained insection 18Cof the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). According to Wilson and the Australian, it's hypocritical for supporters of section 18C to also support Charlie Hebdo's right to publish satirical cartoons.
But theRDA doesn't say anything about religious discrimination, so what Wilson is really concerned about is that he believes 18C prevents the kind of racial stereotyping of certain ethnic groups that has featured in Charlie Hebdo. The Australian reports that Wilson's view is backed by "media law experts" including Simon Breheny of the Institute of Public Affairs (Wilson's former employer) and Justin Quill, "a media lawyer used by the Australian." But despite the views of Wilson and the IPA, the RDAdoes currently allow offensive material to be publishedif the purpose of doing so is genuinely in the public interest, which is to be determined by a court.
The current debate about section 18C was sparked by the Federal Court's2011 ruling against Andrew Bolt. Since that ruling, Bolthas repeatedly claimedthat the court had "banned" him from writing about the issue of fair-skinned Aboriginal people receiving scholarships available only to Indigenous people. But Judge Mordy Bromberg had explicitly held that it was not the issue itself that meant that Bolt's articles contravened the RDA. It was the fact that Bolt's articles "contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language", which meant that the articles did not fall under theexemptions in section 18D.
Last week,Jeff Sparrow arguedthat "we can defend Charlie Hebdo without endorsing" its racialised stereotypes. Michael Brullhas a piece in New Matilda today pointing out the hypocrisy among opponents of 18C, who appear to be arguing for the right to offend others on racial grounds and incite racial tension while being quick to shut down any expression that they perceive is harmful to their own interests. It's difficult to imagine why 18C's opponents want to be able to offend on racial groundsagainst the public interest, thoughsociological concepts like "white privilege"may explain a fair bit.