How Bolt should be punished

Andrew Bolt
Andrew Bolt - Right wing extremist

John Birmingham Brisbane Times - Opinion October 4th, 2011

The messages started early. Some on Twitter. Some emails. A couple of phone calls. All of them sourced back to one news item. The conviction of Andrew Bolt under racial vilification laws. Everyone assumed, rightly, I’d be champing at the bit to hook into the issue of m’unlearned colleague. But probably not in the way you’d expect.

I don’t see the conviction of Bolt as a triumph.

Why?

Because Bolt is the sort of oxygen thief I revel in vilifying. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to wake up and find out that once again the champion of the overdog has disgraced himself in public and that Whacking Day is upon us.

Bolt is a gift to likes of me; a self parodying buffoon who rushed to blame the recent massacre in Norway on jihadi extremists, hours before the real perp was revealed to be the sort of unhinged, Aryan culture warrior who’d probably find Bolt’s columns about jihadi extremists to be a jolly engaging read.

People like Bolt do not need to be suppressed. They need – they desperately need – to be mocked. Mocked for their ignorance. Mocked for their paranoia. Mocked for their delusions of adequacy.

Bringing the full force of the state to bear on the likes of Bolt does not change his opinions or the opinions of the cretins who cheer him on. Decisions like last week’s simply feed into their persecution complexes. Witness this sorry excuse for a freedom fighter jabbering from his network television show and his national column and his high traffic blog that his freedom of speech is being repressed.

This is difficult, contested ground onto which the likes of Bolt drag us all. While his claims of oppression are risible (he retains remember, the blog, the column, the TV show) the general principle that our speech is not entirely free stands strengthened.

Bolt, naturally, reaches for more cover than his odious jottings deserve. The suppurating mess of his column brought him undone before Justice Bromberg, not because he is a brave writer who speaks the truth to power, but because he is a bad writer who doesn’t do his research and who uses his grotesquely amplified public voice to insult and traduce the honour of decent men and women who have not a fraction of the resources at his command to defend their reputations.

In a very real sense, Justice Bromberg was simply redressing a deeply imperfect power balance between Bolt and his victims. For victims they were. He gathered them within the confines of his column, and there set about them with vile falsehoods. One wrong claim after another. Error piled upon error, the whole teetering rhetorical edifice held in place only by the spitefulness of his prose.

This is the grotesque and sick-making irony of his latest fiasco: that he now portrays himself as the aggrieved party, having been hauled into a star chamber and stripped of his precious, precious freedoms. His freedom to insult. His freedom to slander. His freedom to wound and belittle. His freedom to do all this in the face of facts and truths he cannot be bothered getting off his soft, white, privileged arse to verify in the first place.

In doing so, he not just damages those whom he attacked, he does even greater damage to the principles for which he claims to stand. How much more difficult is it to defend an unfettered right to free speech when creatures of this ilk use it for such poor ends? To my mind, there can be only one of two explanations for what went wrong with Bolt’s column. Either he’s a liar who cared not one fig for the suffering his lies would cause. Or, my actual belief, he’s just an incompetent, egomaniacal lackwit who should never be left unsupervised around a keyboard.

Perhaps, however, there is a way out. Perhaps rather than a fine, or a spot of detention at Her Maj’s pleasure, the vilification laws might be tweaked so that malefactors like Bolt, upon conviction, lose the right to sue in defence of their reputation for a specified time. Perhaps a year. Perhaps forever.

I could live with that. And Bolt, if he is serious about free speech, should be able to live with it too. Let him write what he wants. But let the answer to his writing, when it comes, come raw and violent in rhetoric, and unencumbered by the weight of any possible defamation. After all, Bolt seems to think that being free to say whatever we damn well please about anyone is an unqualified good.

Court reminds Bolt that racial discrimination is still illegal

Pip Hinman Green Left Weekly October 6th 2011

Pat Eatock laughs at the suggestion that her successful Federal Court action against Andrew Bolt and News Ltd has jeopardised free speech. Bolt is one of Australia's most widely read conservative columnists, boasting 3 million readers a week.

On September 28, Justice Mordecai Bromberg ruled that the ultra-conservative columnist Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act in two articles he wrote in 2009 in which he criticised "fair skinned Aborigines" for what, he argued, was a choice they had made to identify as Aboriginal.

Titled "It's so hip to be black" and "White fellas in the black", Bolt's articles implied that Pat Eatock, along with 17 others, had chosen to identify as Aborigines for financial, career or political advantage.

Nine of those defamed — former ATSIC member Geoff Clark, artist Bindi Cole, academic Larissa Behrendt, author Anita Heiss, health worker Leeanne Enoch, native title expert Graham Atkinson, academic Wayne Atkinson, lawyer Mark McMillan and activist Pat Eatock — bought the case against Bolt.

Eatock told Green Left Weekly that Bolt's implications that she and others were somehow fraudsters were extremely offensive. She initiated the case against Bolt for contravening Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which makes offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin unlawful.

Eatock is a Goomiegyrie and a grandmother of the Kairi (or Gyrie) nation from central Queensland. She has been an activist all her life, moving to Canberra in 1972, with her five-month old baby, to support the Tent Embassy.

She was the first Aboriginal candidate to stand for federal parliament following the 1967 referendum and is a member of the Socialist Alliance. She lives on practically nothing in a one bedroom Department of Housing unit in Sydney with her faithful dog Flash.

In his judgment, Justice Bromberg said that Eatock had to be able to establish that, "It was reasonably likely that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the conduct [of Bolt]".

The judge found that each of the nine plaintiffs "genuinely identifies as an Aboriginal person and has done so since their childhood.

"Each was raised to identify as an Aboriginal person and was enculturated as an Aboriginal person. None of them ‘chose' to be Aboriginal. Nor have they used their Aboriginal identity inappropriately to advance their careers. Each is entitled to regard themselves and be regarded by others as an Aboriginal person within the conventional understanding of that description."

Eatock was elated with the judge's ruling which found that Bolt's articles contained "errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language".

Bolt's defence was that freedom of speech "trumped" other rights and was a cornerstone of democracy.

"It's tragic that we're led to believe that ‘free speech' means you can say anything discriminatory," said Eatock. "Justice Bromberg's ruling did not deny free speech to anyone. He said that you cannot base opinion on racial prejudice. You have to have facts to support what you write. It's about professional journalism. Bolt can say what he wants. He can have an opinion, but he has to be answerable to that."

Eatock said that there is also little evidence that Bolt's free speech had been curtailed, pointing to the cover and lead story in the September 29 Herald Sun: "This is a sad day for free speech". Perhaps with a legal appeal in mind, he has set up a website devoted to securing donations to "defend free speech".

"This has come to a head just as media ownership is under greater scrutiny — here and overseas", said Eatock. "We have such low expectations of the corporate media. But the profession demands some basis of truth and fact — not prejudice."

Bolt argued in his statement outside the court that the ruling would stop people from discussing multiculturalism.

Perhaps anticipating this, Justice Bromberg, including a comment on multiculturalism in his judgment.

"I have observed that in seeking to promote tolerance and protect against intolerance in a multicultural society, the Racial Discrimination Act must be taken to include in its objectives tolerance for and acceptance of racial and ethnic diversity.

"At the core of multiculturalism is the idea that people may identify with and express their racial or ethnic heritage free from pressure not to do so. People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance."

Click here to see Pat Eatock speak about her experience as a participant in the Aboriginal Embassy protest in 1972 following the screening of Ningla A-Na, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, 20 June 2011.

From GLW issue 897

IPA runs ad in 'The Australian' campaigning for freedom of speech

Mumbrella October 5th, 2011

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has taken out a full page ad in today’s Australian newspaper, claiming Australia’s freedom of speech is under threat.

A list of names sit below a statement which reads “We support freedom of speech for Andrew Bolt and every Australian.” A group of 1,261 people donated to the IPA to pay for the ad with those who donated more than $40 given the option to have their name published.

... Chris Berg, research fellow at the IPA, said the institute was currently working on a book and the roll-out of more information on the topic.

The ad will run in today’s issue of The Australian only.

Keith Windschuttle, Nick Minchin, John Stone, Micheal Kroger, Ian Plimer etc. The list reads like a who's who of spooked out, cardigan wearing, conspiracy theory-subscribing nutters. Honest John