03 August 2011

Free speech or hate speech?

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC's) Q&A on Monday night featured a challenging discussion between Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked and the federal Minister for Human Services and Minister for Social Inclusion, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP.  The exchange was a debate about free speech and hate speech, and well worth watching.

Transcript, the debate followed on from discussion about the terrorist attack in Norway
TONY JONES: The core fear is about racism because, isn't it, because there isn't any question at all, as far as I can see, that he was a racist and the attacks were racially motivated?

BRENDAN O'NEILL: They were racially motivated. He didn't attack another race of people. He attacked his own people but he was obviously driven by cultural paranoia, by insanity, by various different things. But the problem is that to say that there is a direct link between right-wing commentators who say "I hate Muslims" or "I hate immigration" or whatever cranky stuff they come out with, and this guy, who then goes out to kill people - to draw a link between those two things is effectively to say that words kill. And as far as I'm concerned, the only people who say that words kill are censorious people - people who want to clamp down on debate, people who want to restrict what we can say. So I think, yeah, The Sun made a mistake, but it made a fleeting mistake. Other people are making a very conscious, more long, drawn-out mistake by drawing a link between words and violence.

TONY JONES: Tanya Plibersek?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I feel really deeply uncomfortable about what Brendan's saying. I think he's saying that the left are trying to exploit this terrible event and it makes me sick to the stomach to hear that. It makes me absolutely sick to the stomach to hear you saying that there is any group of people in the community trying to exploit what is a deeply disturbing event. I don't know the answer to whether this person is one crank or whether he's a terrorist. I think normally terrorists work in concert with other people, so I would say in many ways that he is one crank. But the idea that people who preach hatred in the community have then no responsibility for violent acts that occur afterwards, I cannot understand that you think that it is fine for people to go out and say we should kill all Muslims or we should do this or do that and that that has no real effect in the world.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: But people are - no but the writers that are being blamed for...


BRENDAN O'NEILL: No, wait, before you clap, the writers who are being blamed for this massacre did not say "Go out and kill all Muslims". They said "I am opposed to the ideology of multiculturalism." They said "I think there should be 5,000 immigrants a year rather than 50,000". Now, I happen to disagree with them on pretty much everything, but what I'm saying is that you cannot draw a distinction between someone who rationally criticises multiculturalism and someone who irrationally kills 77 people.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: And I think that it is perfectly fine in any democracy to have a discussion about government policy, whether it's multiculturalism or climate change or social security legislation. Whatever it is, of course we should have a debate. But what you're saying is that there is no responsibility if you preach hate for what happens when you preach hate.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: No, there isn't, because I believe in something called free will. I think people should take responsibility for their own actions and you are - you are letting Breivik off the hook by saying that other people are to blame for invading his mind.


STEPHEN MAYNE: So, Brendan, you're saying it's fine for...

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I didn't say that. Please don't put words in my mouth. I do not say that he - he has...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: You have just said other people need to bear responsibility for his actions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No. No. I didn't say that.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: I'm saying only he...


BRENDAN O'NEILL: ...only he should bear responsibility for his actions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No, I did not say that. He should bear responsibility but people who preach hate bear responsibility for the hatred they support in the community.


TANYA PLIBERSEK: And I'm not drawing a direct link and you cannot put those words in my mouth.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: Okay, well, I...

TANYA PLIBERSEK: But if you think it doesn't matter in a community that we shouldn't have courteous debate about the issues we care about as a nation, then I am very disappointed to hear that.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: Well, I think it is illegitimate for you - for a politician to depict legitimate criticism of multiculturalism...


BRENDAN O'NEILL: ...as preaching hate.


BRENDAN O'NEILL: You have aligned those two things.


BRENDAN O'NEILL: The writers who are being blamed for this act did not preach hate.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: You are not listening to me.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: They raised legitimate political concerns. You may disagree with them. I do.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: You are not listening to me.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: But you cannot (indistinct).

TONY JONES: Okay, I'm sorry. No, I'm going to put a pause button on this.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No, Tony, I just...

TONY JONES: No, I'll let you make your comment and then I'll go to someone else.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I need to repeat this. I have not drawn that direct link and I have said very clearly that people should be able to have any civilised debate in our community about any issue but that debate should be respectful and it should not preach hate.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: Respectful of what?

TONY JONES: Can I interrupt there? Very briefly, have you seen that link drawn in Australia?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No. No, I haven't.

TONY JONES: Some people suggest, for example, the Cronulla riots...

STEPHEN MAYNE: Absolutely.

TONY JONES: ...came, partly at least, as a result of talkback radio.

STEPHEN MAYNE: It was. It was incited by Alan Jones. Let's say it.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I believe it was incited and I'll tell you something else....

BRENDAN O'NEILL: That's incredible.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I'll tell you something else, Tony. I mean, you know, the Gabrielle Giffords, the crosshairs, if you think that that sort of thing doesn't influence people, if you think that people out there saying homosexuals deserve to die and the Iraq war is God's punishment on homosexuality, that that doesn't increase...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: The implication...

TANYA PLIBERSEK: ...homophobic violence it...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: The implication of these argument are extraordinary because what you're effectively saying is that journalists should be restricted in what they should say and the tone in which they can say it and the public are so stupid and gullible that if there is a Daily Mail article which is shrill and outrageous, they'll go and get a gun and kill loads of people.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No, nobody's saying that.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: The censorious implications of this are extraordinary.

STEPHEN MAYNE: But are you okay with Alan - are you okay with Alan...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: It's pretty predictable that a politician would have those kind of view but for Stephen, a journalist and a founder of online publications, to draw a link between Alan Jones and riots as if one incites the other...

STEPHEN MAYNE: Well, there were investigations of it? I mean are you comfortable with Alan Jones saying that Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister, should be put in a bag and thrown out to sea? That's what he said recently. I mean...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: Yes, because I trust -

STEPHEN MAYNE: ...it's ridiculous.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: I trust that the vast majority of the public know that he is having a joke and will not take him literally.

STEPHEN MAYNE: It's not a joke.

BRENDAN O'NEILL: And if they do...

TONY JONES: All right. Okay. Okay...

BRENDAN O'NEILL: If they do they he has committed a crime.

TONY JONES: Brendan...

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Just the vast majority.
It was an extraordinary exchange.  The issue was whether society should allow hate speech as a part of freedom of speech.

Words have consequences.


Anonymous said...

It's not really about hate speech. If you say go and kill a Muslim that's already a crime. It's about the pseudo-left trying to shut down discussion by people who make perfectly reasonable points about multi-culturalism, immigration etc. You either believe in free speech or you don't

the yellow house in the U said...

It was a terrible episode. The end.