I usually blog about higher education matters but today, as a professor of communication, I would like to comment about the recent court case involving Andrew Bolt.
There have been many comments in the media today about Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg's findings that two articles written by Bolt, published in the Herald Sun in 2009, contravened the Racial Discrimination Act.
In his judgement, Justice Bromberg found fair-skinned Aboriginal people were reasonably likely to have been 'offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed' in the two articles by Bolt.
Whatever the facts of this particular case, I am astounded that some commentators have seen this ruling as an attack on free speech.
Under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedom of speech is protected under Article 19 which states:
"1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals."
My reading is that section 3(a), which calls for respect of the rights or reputations of others, encompasses attacks on people because of the colour of their skin. Without this provision, free speech becomes a right without any attendant responsibilities. Quite simply, it provides protection for 'hate speech'.
To champion hate speech in the name of free speech is, in the words of George Orwell, 'doublethink', meaning to use a positive expression to mask an ugly motive.
Professor Shirley Leitch
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