Documents on Attempts to Stifle Free Speech in Australia
ABC Radio (Australia)
September 26, 1996
Radio National Transcripts:
The Media Report
Right-wingers, Canadian stirrers and Commercial TV Licences
Agnes Warren: Today it's right-wingers, Canadian stirrers, and the auction of Australia's last available commercial television licence. Welcome to The Media Report.
You may have been with us last week when we discussed the media profile of Independent MP, Pauline Hanson, her polished television performances helped along by the seasoned media campaigner she's hired to fend off those she doesn't want to talk to - like the ABC.
At the weekend, the Prime Minister, under pressure to reject Miss Hanson's views, talked of a new climate of free speech in Australia, while also calling for tolerance. Callers to talkback radio came up with a name to test Mr Howard's words.
Caller: Yes, good morning. I tend to agree with the call before; I think he is grandstanding a bit and playing the public for the fools that politicians think we are. However, there is one test case that can prove this, and that's allowing the British historian David Irving to come to this country. You know, Gerard Henderson talks about censorship: if they're fair dinkum about free speech and argument, that would be the first case of where it is, because every successive government has kept him out. So let's see him put his money where his mouth is and overturn the ban.
Jenny Brockie: OK. John thanks for calling.
Agnes Warren: The race was on to find David Irving, the right-wing British historian banned from Australia by the former government. ABC Radio Current Affairs was hot on the trail and Ginny Stein tracked him down in the United States.
Ginny Stein: You're lodging another application. Why now?
David Irving: Because from the remarks made by the Australian Prime Minister, in his view there is a new climate of freedom of speech now blowing in Australia, and if they're going to ride on that particular horse, then they're going to have to show that they mean it.
Ginny Stein: But that alone isn't going to be enough if you say that law is in place to keep you out.
David Irving: Yes. What I'm going to do, I shall lodge a new application for a visa with the Australian government and to that I shall paper-clip a copy of what the Prime Minister himself said about the earnest desire that the Australian government now has to be seen as champions of freedom of speech.
Ginny Stein: Do you believe that at this stage you will be successful?
David Irving: Oh yes. I've discussed this with my legal representatives in West Australia only this evening, and they think that the Australian government is evidently sincere in this intention, and that being so, I would say that I am 100% certain that on this occasion they will accept my application. They would be very foolish not to now because they would be seen to be hypocrites.
Agnes Warren: David Irving. And his denial of the Nazi holocaust led to the inevitable outcry from Jewish and ethnic communities, demanding that any new visa application be thrown out. The Prime Minister has labelled Irving "a crackpot".
Warwick Blood, Associate Professor of Communications at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, says by pursuing David Irving, the media has fallen into his trap.
Warwick Blood: He is, let's face it, a thoroughly obnoxious person by all accounts in terms of his views anyway. I'm sure he's quite pleasant to talk to. In fact he's using this incident, or event, issue, as a way of getting a lot of promotion publicity for himself. It's a gimmick. And I think the Australian press have a lot to answer for in terms of just falling into that trap. Now they're obviously using it in terms of the Prime Minister's recent statement, but he's almost the stereotype of the stereotype, isn't he? He's one bound to create lots of instant reaction, which the press can leap upon.
Agnes Warren: And is that what you mean when you say they've got a lot to answer for?
Warwick Blood: I think they do. I mean in the sense that they are creating an agenda here. I mean if the real issue is about freedom of speech, and I guess concurrently freedom of the press, they're not doing much for the freedom of the press, are they? I mean they're choosing someone who most people would find very distasteful. But let's think about some of the elements of freedom of speech. I mean surely there are many minority groups and others in Australian society who are denied access to freedom to speak their mind, and freedom to the press. They could be used as much better examples than this former good historian, now on the lunatic fringe.
Agnes Warren: So the question being asked is one of free speech, and you think if the media goes and seeks out people at the extreme edge of this debate, then the whole thing is skewed in some way.
Warwick Blood: Well it's almost routine isn't it? Predictable. I mean it's so easy to do, to get someone like him. I mean he's bound to stir up a controversy, useful stuff to put a minister or a prime minister on the line. Very easy stuff to handle, you know. It's predictable, you can plan for it. Whereas you know, they could be a little bit more creative about the whole notion of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and why pick on this person? I mean they're just playing into his hands.
Agnes Warren: But it has presented a difficult situation for the Prime Minister, don't you think? I mean he is now on the spot, in terms of having to deal with the Irving issue.
Warwick Blood: Yes he is, and I'm not doubting that. But what about perhaps some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are often - wouldn't even know how to get access to the media? I mean, are they also in this debate? What about other groups in society? I mean I just find it a bit strange that we go for the routine, planned, predictable sort of event.
Agnes Warren: So you think the media's having trouble with a definition of free speech - they don't quite understand it?
Warwick Blood: I don't think that they do. I don't think they've really explored the boundaries of it. I mean if you take someone like Irving, about the only thing he hasn't done, you know, he's not playing in a grand final this weekend, is he. I mean other than that, I mean he's, as I said, almost the perfect stereotype.
Agnes Warren: So what is the perfect stereotype, the goodie and the baddie is it, that the media goes hunting for in a situation like this.
Warwick Blood: Absolutely. It's them and us, isn't it. I mean they've got the black and the white, it's easily understandable, you know the average reader or viewer can understand this issue very, very simply. Good versus evil. You know, it's almost black hats and white hats of cowboy movies of years gone by.
Agnes Warren: Now one commentator I spoke to last week said if the media goes chasing extremists like Pauline Hanson, then what it does is make the government's job much easier. It takes away the need for the government to argue a line, when the debate is carried on to such an extreme level. Coming back from that is much easier.
Warwick Blood: Yes, it is. Because it's also a diversionary tactic in a lot of ways. Again, because you don't have to discuss the real issue because it comes down to personalities, it comes down to the drama, the controversy of the issue, and you don't really have to tackle the real issue of course, which is the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country.
Agnes Warren: And tough as it would seem, the media's actually been able to deliver someone who's to the right of Pauline Hanson in this debate.
Warwick Blood: Yes. Well perhaps there's a sort of bitter irony, isn't there.
Agnes Warren: Warwick Blood, from Charles Sturt University in Bathurst.
Man: Here you're dealing with a person who has proven bad character, he has a criminal record, he's been involved elsewhere in other countries in public disturbances. I don't think that there is any principle of freedom of speech which requires a government under these circumstances, to allow people such as Irving to come into this country and to spread their vicious vilification.
Man: I think the Irving case has once again been blown out of all proportion. The fellow is not going to come here to incite riots or anything else. You know, you could use that argument against the leadership of the ACTU --
Woman: I have been here for 48 years, I feel very comfortable. I don't want this man to come. I'm the youngest survivor from Auchwitz; I've just made a video for Spielberg. I've lost 162 people in my family. How dare he say that Auchwitz and Hitler didn't do the things they did?
Woman: Yes, I think that Australia's always had freedom of speech. I don't think freedom of speech though is the right to harm others, to vilify others, and I think that that sort of thing only leads to the situation in America, where you have the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacy, and I think it can lead to violence and things that we don't want to see in this country.
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