Markets & Justice

Markets & Justice
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White Australia Has A Black History

White Australia Has A Black History

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo causes Australians to ponder and comment on free speech and the freedom to offend

From The Monthly and its segment, PoliticOz of 13 January 2015


The Australian this morning is 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 in section 18C of 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 the RDA 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 RDA does currently allow offensive material to be published if 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's 2011 ruling against Andrew Bolt. Since that ruling, Bolt has repeatedly claimed that 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 the exemptions in section 18D.
Last week, Jeff Sparrow argued that "we can defend Charlie Hebdo without endorsing" its racialised stereotypes. Michael Brull has 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 grounds against the public interest, though sociological concepts like "white privilege" may explain a fair bit.
Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor