Just about everybody has contributed their twenty cents on the sacking of Scott McIntyre who took to Twitter on Anzac Day to make some very interesting comments about what Anzac Day is celebrating:[tweet https://twitter.com/mcintinhos/status/591869168917544960]
Scott McIntyre was tweeting from a verified account which identified him as a reporter for the SBS. It was, by all accounts, a work Twitter account. By making these comments from this Twitter account, SBS really had no option than to distance itself from him.
But there’s so much more going on here.It was barely a year ago that we were talking about s 18C and s 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the majority opinion seemed to be that offensive speech was fine in Australia. What killed reform was the fact that it was concurrent with a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment in the community, and the Coalition really looked like they were fanning racist flames.
The result is something of a double standard. Why is it ‘free speech’ when Muslims, Indigenous Australians, and other minorities are being sledged, but ‘despicable’ and ‘deserv[ing of] condemn[ation]’ when white Australia’s myths are denigrated?
This resulted in understandable anger and outrage:[tweet https://twitter.com/LanaDelNeigh_/status/592159260500328448]
There are two consistent positions on the issue. People like Prof Sarah Joseph (Monash University) argue that Andrew Bolt’s comments about Indigenous Australians should not be unlawful, and that the sacking of McIntyre is equally wrong. In both cases, we have the issue of practices which result in a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of speech, and this coercion is morally wrong.
Then there’s the other side of that position. I maintain that Andrew Bolt’s comments had no place in civilised society because they interfere with the ability of others to participate in society, and that Scott McIntyre’s comments were so offensive that they merited punishment.
At the outset, adopting one of these two positions should be a threshold requirement for participating in the conversation. Anything short of it is mere hypocrisy and cherry picking. Either it’s ‘free speech’ (whatever that means) for everybody, or we are erring on the side of civilised society and marking some speech out of bounds.
The reason why many people don’t come down to one of the two above positions is that they misrepresent the issue. In both the Bolt and McIntyre cases, it wasn’t the content of the speech that was the problem. People can engage in discussions about Indigenous identification and alternate narratives about Anzac Day all they like. In Eatock v Bolt, Justice Bromberg engages in this exact kind of discussion while meting out punishment to Bolt for offensive speech. You can hold all the unpopular opinions that you like. You can express all kinds of crazy views with varying degrees of historical accuracy. What you can’t do is interfere with other people by making unreasonably offensive comments.
This is what got both Bolt and McIntyre into strife. Plenty of people were spending the day criticising the Anzac myth, but McIntyre decided to be as inflammatory as he could manage. SBS had no real option but to let him go; McIntyre was bringing them into disrepute. Similarly, Bolt was criticised for presenting his argument in a way which was deliberately designed to insult, offend, and humiliate.
There is an element of unfairness to the McIntyre case. I am routinely embarrassed by the opinions of my fellow conservatives who spew forth all kinds of despicable comments about minorities and other groups who can’t fight back on equal terms. I even called for Piers Ackerman to be sacked from Insiders after comments he made about the (then) Prime Minister’s partner. There wouldn’t be many columnists left at News Corp if they were sacked for making obscene comments, and we would be all the better for it.
The McIntyre case reinforces the view that some pigs are more equal than others when it comes to ‘freedom of speech’, but that doesn’t excuse McIntyre — and nor does it make his sacking morally wrong.
McIntyre wasn’t sacked for criticising the Anzac myth. He was sacked for being offensive. Confusing the two issues helps nobody.