Upping the ante in the fight for free speech

Upping the ante in the fight for free speech
Why spiked wants to make freedom of speech the great cause of 2014.

Free speech needs to be rudely and constantly defended.

Discussion Summary:

Politicians criticising the ABC or reducing its funding are not a threat to freedom of speech. 

Decades ago we had a national broadcaster worth defending. In those days, most ABC journalists attempted to report news with minimal bias. Today, the ABC wraps virtually all it's product in editorial spin and has become a political player. If ABC is widely trusted, it should have no problem getting its users to fund it. In wanting to sell off the ABC, I am not anti-freedom, just anti-free-loading.

But the ABC supports artists who would not be able to earn a living otherwise.

Everyone from car makers to baby makers, from paint sprayers to rap sayers - none of them can last another day unless the government grows another teat and suckles them. The arts teat has permanently infantalised it's industry at tax payers expense. Tell those 'rent seekers' to earn their way by pleasing someone who earns.

Threatening ABC independence or funding is like locking up journalists in Egypt.

It is important to maintain some perspective when talking about these issues. I would not compare the limited legal suppression of free speech in Australia re race and religion with the extreme suppression of the press and the people occurring in Egypt and... well come to think of it, nearly every islamic country.... Asking whether we should force all Australians to pay for a partisan and unpatriotic media giant has got nothing to do with suppressing freedom of speech. I, and many others are indeed 'right', in suggesting that you can speak freely without forcing us all to pay your publishing costs.

If the government doesn't publish, then we will have nothing but the biased commercial press.

Many from the left can't conceive of freedom as anything but a gift from government. It is the antithesis of freedom to forceably extract more than a billion $ per year from taxpayers to promote a political and social agenda through the ABC. You explictity acknowledge that the ABC is not itself "balanced" but rather takes a side in order to "balance self-serving media moguls". You confuse freedom with balance when you make the absurd statement that there is "no free speech without media diversity". Freedom is not guarantee of diversity or indeed equality, which is why the left are so constantly seeking to curb our freedoms. In relation to "economic intimidation", the government pays for services from the ABC Board. If it is unhappy with the services, then it can reduce the scope of the services it buys. There is no issue of freedom whatsoever. I say again - you can speak freely without forcing us all to pay your publishing costs. Indeed, as a classic "rent-seeker" with strong shared values, the ABC reduces diversity. It enters markets where it either directly takes contracts (i.e. Australian Network etc) from competitors, or just offers free services in the same market (e.g. the Age). I hope that the current government strips the ABC of as many resources as possible as quickly as possible.

The proposition in this thread is the need to protect freedom of speech. I must tell the Egyptians how bad it is in Australia where the billion dollar funding for our public media giant is likely to be reduced. "Sorry", they ask, "we could lose our lives for exercising our freedom, and you are free to express (almost) any opinion without fear, but still complain merely because your government won't pay your publishing costs ?". I apologise to the Egyptians on your behalf. Yes, Australia and the west are experiencing a creeping loss of freedoms of which the first and most important is freedom of speech. But we need to recognise that our problems pale into insignificance in relation to the many countries where lives are being threatened and lost.

This thread started with my promotion of an article on freedom (on an website of independent thought and income to which I pay my “buck 05”). The persistent linking of the thread to public funding of the ABC is spurious. “There is no free speech without media diversity” is just simply wrong. “There is no food without a smorgasbord.” Pretty ludicrous really. The real test of commitment to freedom of speech is to defend the right to express views that you might find repulsive. Perhaps, a litmus test of your commitment to freedom would be to defend “sloppy journalists' right to slag off at minorities to extract a living out of a naive and/or bigoted audience”. Done that lately ? But I would never insist that you listened to them, or give them a soapbox, or paid for them to be broadcast. Not the same issue at all. Without the ABC, there would still e freedom of speech. Why, without the ABC, perhaps the Fairfax media would return to profitability ? Perhaps a range of other media outlets would blossom as some of that billion dollars leaks out into the hands of a free people. Freedom is scary, because you have to be responsible for yourself instead of leaving everything to a government. As de Tocqueville says, “Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” I think we can do better.


Freedom Isn't Free

The internal culture of the ABC constructs a high filtered “diversity” that either silences or slants the coverage of most issues. It does this, as you’ve said, because it considers itself the defender of left-wing values against a right-wing commercial press. I have no wish to silence the 10% of Australians that watch, listen and read it. I, and an increasing number of Australian’s just don’t want to pay for it. I am glad you acknowledge that deciding it’s level of funding is the role of our democratically elected government. It is a huge leap from where we are in Australia to de Tocqueville’s dystopia, your Dickensian enslavement or the hell of the middle east. It is worth keeping some perspective and some moderation in the language with which we debate what is essentially just alternatives in the allocation of government funds. Freedom of speech is not at issue here, but it is at issue whenever someone is legally or socially intimidated from saying what is on their mind.

I don't see the commercial press as defenders of right wing values. They tend to be directed primarily by the need to attract attention to themselves and thus sell something. This creates a significant bias towards stories that are shallow and sensational, which can only be only curbed by the good sense of the citizenry. If we decide that the citizenry are unable to make these judgements, then we have given up on democracy as well as freedom (and they are far from the same thing !). The "middle ground" in commercial media is created by diversity, and I do see a government role in maintaining diversity wherever markets fail. Not by entering the market, but by restraining the big players to create space e.g. With Coles and Woolies dominating the food chain, govt should enact regulation similar to the media ownership limitations to force them to leave space. Likewise, with banks, government needs to make the judgement call about when a "market" becomes an "oligopoly" and regulate accordingly. The principle being served is always maximising freedom: either the freedom to publish and read whatever the public will pay for, or the freedom from monopolistic behaviour that prevents the public being offered an alternative. "Freedom to" is always a higher good than "freedom from". "Freedom from" always involves taking away one persons freedom to deliver it to someone else e.g. "freedom from hunger" necessitates reducing the freedom of some taxpayers in order to benefit the hungry. Our politicians balance one freedom against another every day. One of my worries about the leaders in politics, industry and public service is their frequent wilful denial that every policy decision involves balancing competing goods, competing evils and the great devil of unintended consequences.

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