Talk in song from tongues of lilting grace… Why everybody should stop talking about ‘freedom of speech’

Before we get to the meat of this discussion, it is worth asking a preliminary question: Why are we all talking about Israel Folau?  It’s a painfully boring subject.  We have serious political issues happening right on our doorstep and yet our media is obsessed with whether or not a sports celebrity is allowed to say homophobic things.  Australians are poorly served by our journalists.

The problem with the Israel Folau story is that it’s taken on a level of abstraction that it doesn’t need.  If you ask the average person on the street ‘Do you reckon that a footy player should be permitted to make homophobic remarks?’ the answer would be ‘Uhhhh… I dunno. I just watch them for the footy, really.’

Australians seem obsessed with the idea of presenting sportsball players as public intellectuals.  Ian Thorpe was the white, middle class face of the ‘Yes’ campaign during the marriage equality vote.  Back when I watched ordinary TV, I vaguely remember people I didn’t recognise holding sports gear telling me various obvious things, like depression is bad, don’t do drugs, and don’t hit women.  I also remember Andrew Gaze came to my primary school at one point to tell us that basketball exists.

The point is: most people do not treat sports celebrities as topics that warrant higher level thought.

This comes with costs.  Homophobia, drug abuse, and sexism (particularly sexual assault) is rife within the sporting elite.  Given the vast amount of money involved in sport, sports teams are better seen as PR companies, trying to capture a sort of image that is palatable to the wider community.  In a sense, sports elites are being told to play their sport extremely well and, for the love of all that is good and holy, keep their idiot views to themselves.  Israel Folau could not keep his idiot views to himself and so he was sacked.

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A cruel angel’s thesis… Cultural production in the age of fan entitlement

I had been thinking about this topic a bit for the past month or so, but watching X-Men: Dark Phoenix last night made me think about jotting some of the ideas down.  Dark Phoenix is not a good movie.  None of the actors seem to want to be in the movie.  Everything is dull.  None of it is good.  It is a confusing mess of a film.

And so, of course, I thought I could write a better movie.  Which, of course, I couldn’t.  My version would be a two-hour exploration of the destructive nature of power unbounded by law and order: the Phoenix being this untapped wellspring of pure power that, when combined with Jean Grey’s righteous anger, becomes a threat to the cosmos and so needs to be removed.  Instead, this version seems unclear about who the main character is, why the characters are doing what they’re doing, and how the problem should be resolved.  Of course, I couldn’t write the better version because everything I write is clunky bullshit, but I like to fantasise that I could, in fact, write a masterpiece.

Is this not the same fantasy that we keep seeing played out in negative fan reactions to things like the Game of Thrones finale?

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Cause in this life you spend time running from depravity… The Press, the Whistleblowers, and the AFP

The nature and limits of State power is a complex topic.  The recent warrants executed by the Australian Federal Police to seize materials held by journalists has caused debate in the media, probably entirely due to the fact that the subject of the warrants were journalists.  There’s an inherent conflict here between publishing information about the activities of the AFP and the self-interest of a massive and powerful industry.

On the other hand, these types of incidents are a helpful opportunity to take stock of where we are as a society and what we think the relationship between the State and the Press should be.  We talk a lot about the problems of ‘Insider’ culture, with some journos relying on advance information directly from authorities in order to get exclusive scoops and background information on public documents.  Events like this let us see a bit more into what that relationship between elites is like, even to the extent of journalists wanting to do anything other than acknowledge that the relationship is sometimes a bit too cosy.

But all of this is prologue to the topic that I find particularly interesting about the warrants – and there are a lot of interesting aspects (are judges effective scrutineers of warrants sought by authorities? what powers are used to seek leaks?  what protections should be available to journalists that are not available to individual members of the public? is the ALP somehow to blame for any of it?  There’s a really good discussion about the relationship between the AFP and the Minister that I wish more people were taking up…). The topic I find really fascinating is the rhetoric about whistleblowers in the context of State secrets.

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Once it was simple, one feeling at a time… Obligatory hot take on the election

There seem to be a lot of people who are, despite never being involved in politics, apparently experts in what went wrong for Bill Shorten.  It was barely 8pm when the hot takes started up.  People knew with extreme certainty what the ALP had done wrong.

Worse, by 9pm, it seemed as if it was compulsory for people to get in first with their accurate diagnosis of what went wrong.  Journos, especially, had this compulsion to give definitive takes as early as they could.

I’m not one of those people.  I have no idea what went wrong.  If anything, it justifies a whole lot more expenditure on social sciences research.

But I do know what the election loss means to me personally.  As a conservative, I hoped that the Liberal Party would lose, spend a few years in opposition trying to digest what it was going to do about the hard right elements in its midst, and then approach the next election with a policy platform.  Instead, Australia showed that you could win an election with next to nothing.  Worse, it feels like the Liberal Party has won the election not knowing what it would do if it won.  Most of its experienced elements had departed prior to the election, not expecting to be reelected, and the policy platform appeared to be made up on the spot.

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Oh, it’s not the potion, it’s the magic that I seek… Is it time for a Charter of Rights for welfare recipients?

One thing that the #NotMyDebt hashtag was good at was raising the profile of welfare recipients who felt like they were being treated unjustly.  The media routinely presents people on welfare as being slouchers and parasites, those who steal your hard-earned cash to live a life without work.  And although I disagree with their philosophical commitments, the Australian Unemployed Workers Union has also been performing a similar function, creating a lightning rod for harnessing the energy of people who, by all accounts, are treated badly by capitalism.

Where these platforms — #NotMyDebt in particular — were less helpful was ‘practical’ advice for dealing with Centrelink.  NMD delivered a lot of straight up incorrect information, and a number of the key voices behind that campaign are known vectors of nonsense across a range of policy areas (such as asylum seeker policy).

In this post, I want to move away from the rhetoric of activist groups and specific controversies, and into a broader problem: should we institute a charter of rights for welfare recipients?

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People you hate will get their hooks into you… Responding to @mjrowland68 on the criticism of journalists

Michael Rowland is a co-host of ABC News Breakfast.  To its credit, the show provides an alternative for audiences who watch the sort of breakfast television that’s dominated by mediocre white Baby Boomers and not (as is the inspired choice) by cartoons.  If you really must have the television on in the morning (and you hate cartoons), then you can avoid the commercial offerings of explicit hatred towards minorities by flicking over to the ABC with its implicit erasure of them.

Like many of the old white people haunting the ‘legacy’ media, Rowland thinks there’s a problem with social media: not enough respect for journalists.  In a weirdly written article on the ABC’s website, Rowland uses his national platform to say that journalists don’t think people on Twitter are being nice enough:

Twitter is a double-edged sword for political journalists.

It’s an invaluable source of breaking news and allows us to keep track of campaign developments in real time.

For good and bad, it’s a forum for politicians to make unfiltered announcements or respond to criticism from the other side, all of which provides fodder for news stories and commentary.

Importantly, it allows voters to have their say — and this is where things are getting particularly willing.

“Twitter is a peanut gallery of hyper-partisan tools,” Uhlmann laments.

That is unintelligible nonsense.  Rowland then asks the views of Chris ‘Jewish intellectuals are an intellectual virus’ Uhlmann, Patricia Karvelas, Dennis Atkins, Katharine Murphy, and Leigh Sales.  All of them complain that people on Twitter are too mean and don’t give them enough respect.

At no point does Rowland ask the vital question: do the critics have a point?

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Close your, close your, close your eyes… Is truth the right standard for defamation law?

The decision in Geoffrey Rush’s defamation case against the Daily Telegraph was handed down this week. This, of course, got many people all a-chattering about defamation law.  Particularly journos.  Many felt that this was yet another example of the law’s failures, a key reason why the ‘me-too’ movement hadn’t taken off in the way that it had overseas.  After all, when was the last time a newspaper won a defamation case?

Followers of defamation law would know that only a month earlier we had the case of Charan v Nationwide News, a resounding victory for the newspaper.  Most people would not have heard about that case because the newspaper won…

The high profile losses recently have often skipped over any criticism of the newspaper’s conduct. In the Rush case, the Court found the newspaper published the allegations in ‘an extravagant, excessive and sensationalist manner’: ‘It is difficult to see how the front page image could possibly be considered to be justifiable in light of the relative paucity of the information apparent from the content of the articles.’ Further, the Court found that the newspaper was ‘reckless as to the truth or falsity of the defamatory imputations conveyed by the articles and had failed to make adequate inquiries before publication’.

Another major case was decided this year, Chau v Fairfax.  The Court again found that the newspaper had been unreasonable in the way it went about forming conclusions about Dr Chau.

This is a problem because public perception of the law is, of course, influenced by the way it is presented in the media.  Here, the media has a clear interest in presenting the law in an unfavourable light, just as all industries argue against regulations which get in the way of their profits.

Framed differently, a reasonable and cautious publisher could have printed the stories about Rush and Dr Chau in a way which would not have fallen victim to defamation law.

Rather than grill through the legal aspects of the case (which are fascinating, don’t get me wrong), let’s get wild and run naked through the fields of legal theory: is ‘truth’ the right yardstick for defamation law?

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