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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Bruce Everett and Legal Eagle on Andrew Bolt and the free speech thing

A useful post by Bruce Everett over here.

And it points us to another one by Legal Eagle, who has since followed up at considerable length. This bit of Legal Eagle's analysis is important, and I agree with the sentiments:

The following issues seem to have been highly operative on his Honour’s conclusion: the sarcastic, uncivil tone of Bolt’s writing, the various inaccuracies in the presentation of the backgrounds of the plaintiffs, and the way in which the portrayals of the plaintiffs were slanted to emphasise their European heritage. Fundamentally, his Honour’s conclusion seems to be that Bolt’s articles were not a polite or respectful discussion of the issues: contrary to the suggestion of various commentators and blogs, people are entitled to discuss issues of racial and Aboriginal identity, but they should do so in a way which is scrupulously accurate and respectful of those who claim Aboriginal identity. It has to be said that if I had my “druthers”, I’d vastly prefer that people followed his Honour’s strictures when they were writing on this topic. I do not generally like Bolt’s sarcastic tone, and I do not read his articles for this very reason. I did not like the articles in question in this case, and thought that they were misguided in certain respects, although I also thought that some of the questions they raised were worthwhile and important. I do not generally like sarcastic writing of this type. I can think of left wing bloggers who have adopted a “Bolt like” tone in apparent retaliation and reaction against Bolt, and I have never been a great fan this either. I really don’t think a sarcastic tone is helpful to resolving complex issues. It just gets your interlocutors angry and means that they close their ears to any reasonable point you might have.

But ultimately, I query whether the law is an appropriate vehicle for enforcing civility in debate. It is a very heavy-handed mechanism for dealing with this issue, and may have unforeseen consequences. I am just not sure that the RDA provisions seeking to prevent offence are the right vehicle to deal with this issue. Does this mean that any writer with a sarcastic tone should be worried?

I should add that Legal Eagle's lengthy discussion thread on the more recent post is very good indeed.

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