Australian Censorship and Human Rights

I did a show yesterday on China’s censorship and human rights record. A few people have told me that in Australia, we can say what we like and do what we like. Really?

Why is KRUDD spending $60 million on Internet censorship?

Why did a Gold Coast teenager get arrested and charged for wearing a “blasphemous” t-shirt?

Why was Haneef held without charge for 12 days?

Why was Dr Phillip Nitschke’s book on assisted suicide banned?

Why were two Islamic books banned?

China has censorship. Australia has censorship. Ours may be less strict and more sophisticated, but if you want to argue against the principle of censorship, let’s fight it at home first. I’ll be there with you. Let’s just avoid the mass hysteria and hypocrisy of criticizing easy targets when we have similar laws at home. That’s just the way the mass media and governments deflect attention from what is happening in our own backyards.

Australia has laws about what and can’t be said. So does China. And China isn’t going to change until the people of China was it to and do something about it en masse.

If Australia REALLY wants to protest China’s human rights record, let’s boycott the Olympics. We could also stop selling them coal but I suspect economic sanctions hurt innocent civilians more than the people in power. However let’s stop censorship at home first, then perhaps we’ll be in a position to critique other countries.

10 thoughts on “Australian Censorship and Human Rights

  1. In regards to your fifth example, do you think that freedom of speech should extend to incitement to murder? Were RTLM and Kangura completely within their moral rights to broadcast what they did in Rwanda?

  2. I’m right with you that any form of inhibition of free speech is contemptible and that Australians are too tolerant on limits to their own free speech – or perhaps resistant to the responsibilities that go with it.

    But let’s not do the Chinese the injustice of claiming our own infringements on free speech and human rights are in any way comparable to theirs, or overlooking the crucial difference: the limits to our free speech are imposed by elected governments, and as such are broadly reflective of societal values, whether or not you and I completely agree with them.

    If we don’t like the laws our governments impose, we have the freedom to blog or podcast about it, write to newspapers or call talkback radio, persuade others to see things our way, write to MPs or even visit their office to moan, or assemble outside parliament in peaceful protest without fear of being beaten or killed. And every 3 years we get to have our say at the ballot box – a flawed, compromised system I’ll grant you, but one that does a far better job of keeping the powerful accountable to their people than does totalitarian dictatorship.

    All the “why” questions you put above, I think can be fairly answered by saying “because it’s what the government thought we wanted it to do”. These infringements on freedom are what we’re left with when the forces of open public discussion and democratic process have all played out.

    The Chinese don’t have the luxury of these freedoms to discuss nor the power to elect.

    Yes it will take the the will of the Chinese people to rise up against the limits to freedom they currently endure, but surely we can embolden them by making it known that they have our support.

  3. Charlie – I believe in freedom of speech. If someone tells me to break a law, and I do, then that fault is mine and mine alone.

    Tom – I agree and I’d rather live in Australia than China, no question about it. What I’m trying to point out is that criticizing China for censorship is hypocritical when we have it here as well. The only difference (where censorship is concerned) is the degree of censorship.

    If we want to argue that the people of the PRC should have more political freedoms, then I’m on board.

  4. Cam – so a competition between me and you in which we raced to see how many teenagers we could get to kill themselves would be perfectly fine? Or maybe do a Leslie Camilleri and see if we can find a Lindsay Beckett to kill someone for us? Incitement to murder is as bad as murder itself in my book. You’re excusing anyone who ever played a purely verbal role in a crime.

  5. Charlie, yeah I don’t see the crime in talking or writing. Beckett was 24 years old. He should have said “no”. If someone collaborates on a murder, then that’s one thing. But this “incitement” business is just nonsense in my book. Specifically when you look at examples like Dr Nitchke’s book being banned.

  6. Charlie, it’s all very well to say it’s OK to ban things that you personally don’t like. But when you grant someone the right to do that, how do you know they will ban only the things you don’t like and not the things you do, and just whose values should be respected and whose should be disrespected in making the distinction.

    Christopher Hitchens makes a very compelling case about this here:
    http://heliologue.com/2007/02/16/christopher-hitchens-on-free-speech/

    I agree, incitement to murder is deplorable. But the problem is the culture that gives rise to such views, not the book that documents them. Banning the book doesn’t mean the incitement to murder disappears, and it’s dangerous to delude ourselves that it does. We’re better for having the book so we can scrutinise and understand the culture it represents, and better decide how to deal with it.

  7. I’m very nervous about taking on Hitchens but I’ll give it a shot!

    “yeah I don’t see the crime in talking or writing” – completely disagree with this. Goebbels in my opinion was as guilty as those who actively participated in Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. RTLM and Kangura were as guilty as those who actually committed the genocide. Camilleri was as guilty as Beckett.

    Who was responsible for Hiroshima? The crew of the Enola Gay or Harry Truman who gave the ultimate order?

    It’s a grey area in my opinion but I think it comes down to the intention of the speaker. If the ultimate aim of the speaker is that a crime be committed then I think their culpable.

    If like me you think that Nitschke should be allowed to publish his book then we need to get suicide legalised. That means we need to go through the due process in our society which means lobbying government, raising awareness of our issue and working towards a change in the law. In this country I am thankfully free to pursue such a campaign if I so choose.

  8. Well hold on Charles! 🙂 There is a big difference between writing about a subject and being an accessory to a crime. Truman was an accessory to Hiroshima – he gave the order. That’s different to writing a book about suicide or wearing a t-shirt that says Jesus was a cunt (which the gold coast kid got arrested for).

    I totally agree that euthenasia needs to be legalized but I also think Nitschke’s book should be legal.

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