Andrew Bolt

Sep 29, 2011

News Limited cries “Free Speech”, ignores errors

A comparison of the content of the editorials

Pure Poison Icon
A comparison of the content of the editorials in some of the News Limited papers today.

Has “News Limited” ever rung as true?
While News Limited has quickly, and understandably, backed one of their most prominent columnists after yesterday’s embarrassing judgement, it seems rather obvious that they are not keen to engage in what was an important part of the judge’s reasoning. The entire thrust of Bolt’s articles was that people were choosing to identify as Aboriginal in order to obtain advantages not otherwise available to them, this was incorrect, but it’s not something that News wants to linger on.

The Australian’s editorial also laughably complains about Justice Bromberg ruling on how a “reasonable person” would interpret Bolt’s columns.

He discussed how the “style and structure” of the articles “invite supposition” and, remarkably, said: “Language of that kind has a heightened capacity to convey implications beyond the literal meaning of the words utilised.”

Perhaps the editorial writer missed the year 10 English lessons when irony and sarcasm were discussed? As Jeremy pointed out yesterday, the ruling dismissed Bolt’s well worn “I’m not saying…” disclaimer as disingenuous, for the Oz to claim that this is anything but obvious shows contempt for the comprehension skills of their readers.

If News, and Bolt’s supporters, want their free speech argument to be taken seriously then they need to first admit why Bolt lost the case, rather than attempting to muddy the water.

35 comments

35 thoughts on “News Limited cries “Free Speech”, ignores errors

  1. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    That’s an excellent point, Dudette. Crikey has been sued for defamation by two people who are now championing Bolt’s right to free speech.

  2. mondo rock

    If problems nevertheless arise, the laws are reviewed and sometimes amended or rescinded entirely.

    Indeed. It seems that the likely next PM of Australia intends to do just that, not that his promises are worth much.

    It’s about the only topic on which I’ve seen the Liberals actually adopt a traditionally ‘liberal’ policy position.

  3. fred p

    Let’s also remember that News Limited was happy to defend the Federal Court decision in the Toben v Jones case in 2002, as pointed out by SHV in another thread. I wonder what they see as the difference between that case and the present case. And I have a couple of theories about that:

    1. the defendant in the Toben v Jones case wasn’t a News Limited columnist; and
    2. the plaintiffs in the Toben v Jones case were more politically agreeable to News Limited – being Jewish, and not (fake) Aboriginals.

  4. Fran Barlow

    Mondo said:

    [you have confirmed again your view that the laws used to prosecute AB are questionable, and that they are a potential threat to transparency within the national debate.]

    Any law, IMO, including laws that I strongly support, creates the possibility of unintended and undesired consequences. That is why in civilised countries one makes laws carefully and after comparing them to established community standards, considering the risks and building in suitable flags to prevent problems. If problems nevertheless arise, the laws are reviewed and sometimes amended or rescinded entirely.

    The RDA, specifially s18C/D fit this description. They persisted through the entire period of the Howard regime without it occurring to anyone to make a serious move to amend them, even when it might have been a fairly simple thing. Now they have been tested, 16 years after becoming law and no injustice has ensued. The prospect of truncation of speech rights we value appears no greater than was the case in 1995.

    I regard it in the way that I regard typos or compositional clumsiness in my posts — a little untidy and for that, somewhat annoying, because I prefer tidiness and clarity. On the other hand, if all serious folk understand me, I can move on to more important things. So too it is with s18C/D. At least as things stand, reform is not an urgent matter, and given the context — trolling claims that some News Ltd trollumnist’s free speech has been truncated — perhaps should not be entertained. It is no business of the state to assist News Ltd’s business model.

    On balance I’d say leave matters as they are, but let’s by all means have a serious discussion about how to reconcile free public commentary with intellectual rigour and respect for the communities composing the nation.

    One last point: The discussion of what is and what is not apt in public commentary on matters of ethnicity that has attended this matter has almost certainly been a worthwhile thing. It is hard to imagine, absent this case, that such an intense discussion of these matters could have arisen, and so one can argue that, far from discussion being shut down by s18C/D of the RDA, it has enlarged upon it. Moreover, many more people now know that Mr Blot is someone who is reclkless with the truth when he believes it serves his cause to be so. He has marked himself out as a man bearing animus towards indigenous people before a much wider audience. This would seem to suggest that the provisions are indeed salutary to the public interest.

  5. mondo rock

    I don’t think I misread you Fran – you have confirmed again your view that the laws used to prosecute AB are questionable, and that they are a potential threat to transparency within the national debate.

    You seem to believe that AB deserved sanction for his writing but you would be more comfortable, it would seem, with that sanction being available under the principles of defamation rather than special racial villification laws.

    It seems to me that your views are quite closely aligned with those criticising the 18C/D laws and their application in this judgement.

  6. Fran Barlow

    Mondo said:

    [So Fran, since you appear to believe that state-sanctioned prohibition of particular ideas is an “incipient hazard” then on what basis do you support the laws under which AB has been prosecuted?]

    You needed to read my text more carefully.

    [attempts by the state to use the force of law to regulate what may be uttered are an incipient hazard to confidence in the transparency of governance, and should only be entertained within very narrow and carefully defined limits and then only according to transparent protocols.]

    In short — a risk, but one that may be warranted in some circumstances with proper safeguards. “Free speech” is not an omnibus affirmative defence. It’s not like the joker in a game of 500.

    Personally, I’m uncomfortable with s18C/D, and would have preferred at a minimum somewhat different wording, to make clearer the scope of the law, the harm tests and the affirmative defences in s18D. Better yet would be the creation of class action defamation as a branch of this country’s tort law, with a suitable public fund to fight cases that seemed to fit a proper group defamation test. Such things are matters of tidiness rather than fundamental principle however.

    I’m not one for making the perfect the enemy of the good and even as it stands, given that the “sanction” does not in fact impose any effective curtailment of freedom of speech and expression, even to lie recklessly in the service of racial abuse as Blot has done, I see no grand injustice here. Blot would not even have suffered this public censure had he recanted his defamatory statements and apologised at first complaint. He could still have persisted in venting his animus at indigenous people in general.

    This whole tantrum by the Blot fringe begins and ends with hatred for honest and rigorous discussion of public policy. The right not merely to one’s own hateful opinions, but to one’s own defamatory factual claims is wrapped in the flimsy veil of “free speech”. This judgement tore away that veil, leaving the Blot exposed as a naked perjurer possessed of nothing more than malice for a disadvantaged people and a desire to stir his flying monkeys to rage over the matter.

  7. Matthew of Canberra

    … that state-sanctioned prohibition of particular ideas …

    mondo, could you please explain to us precisely what particular idea has been prohibited in this case? Specifically. No, we’re not going to claim that you hold to it, I just want to see you spell out what idea it is that bolt has been sanctioned for holding or expressing. In your own words, please. A follow-up question would be why you think this judgement would prevent bolta (or anyone else) from expressing a genuinely-held view about the same idea in the future.

    Give it a shot. I think it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. Let’s have a debate.

  8. Matthew of Canberra

    The clock ticks and another fiercely independent, brave journalist does exactly what she’s paid to do:

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/bolt-case-has-ominous-echo/story-e6frfhqf-1226152332593

    It’s basically one big godwin, not even blushing when she uses neimoller’s quote to take a swipe at the left (they came for the COMMUNISTS, miranda – get it? This whole thing started with a stoush about skin colour and legitimate claims to ethicity … and you’re saying the OTHER guys are hitler? Far out)

    But it’s just one more barracker who’s ignoring the actual case and referring to the mythical one that NEWS is peddling instead:

    “The Federal Court has shown us that the Racial Discrimination Act can be used to silence unfashionable opinion. …”

    “… No matter how much you may disagree with his opinions, or even find them offensive, the fact a court has declared them illegal should send a chill down the spine of every true democrat.”

    Utter tosh. Bolt’s opinions are not illegal. Even expressing them is not illegal. The fashionableness is irrelevant. Read the judgement, then express an opinion.

    The reporting on this case has been truly appalling. It’s like there’s a whole parallel world of not-quite-facts and NEWS prefers to report on that one and ignore the objective one the rest of us actually lives in.

  9. mondo rock

    In my opinion, attempts by the state to use the force of law to regulate what may be uttered are an incipient hazard to confidence in the transparency of governance, and should only be entertained within very narrow and carefully defined limits and then only according to transparent protocols.

    So Fran, since you appear to believe that state-sanctioned prohibition of particular ideas is an “incipient hazard” then on what basis do you support the laws under which AB has been prosecuted?

    Or do you not support them?

  10. fred p

    Despite the ridiculously obvious partisan actions in jumping all over your Public Enemy No 1 following his court loss, surely Crikey is the last bastion of publishing advice to be heeded when it comes to offensive pieces.

    You may be right about that, dudette. However, even if one accepts what you say, that wouldn’t detract from Dave’s point about News Limited’s editorial disingenuity in studiously avoiding discussing what the decision was based on and thereby deliberately misleading it’s readers about it. Would you agree that’s fair criticism?

  11. Matthew of Canberra

    “seems a bit rich considering how many times Crikey has been done”

    I’m not crikey.

  12. Shinsko

    Nice, Fran.

    Also…I find it fascinating that “attacking” freedom of speech has now been re-framed by the Right to include any correction of their facts, counter argument or criticism.

    And if you dare to insist that only qualified people should be interviewed or sought for comment for a story covering their area of expertise (e.g. climate scientist versus random google scientist) then you are shutting down debate.

  13. Dave Gaukroger

    Dudette,
    Crikey has lost defamation cases in the past, mostly related to the newsletter from memory, but I couldn’t say if your characterisations of being malicious or hateful are accurate.

    As to whether Bolt took as much interest in cases lost by Crikey, or Pure Poison, I think you’d concede that the Bolt case has much higher profile than any other recent media related court case. We’re hardly the only blog on the internet discussing this subject this week.

  14. Vesper Lynd

    … and Senator Brandis answers the answers the clarion call to arms issued by News Ltd

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/bolt-case-spurs-libs-to-bid-for-race-act-revamp-20110929-1kzdm.html

  15. dudette

    Dave Gaukroger,

    This particular blog post, and its helpful “advice” for News Limited, seems a bit rich considering how many times Crikey has been done for defamation or offence or damage to character or reputation.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this website has been successfully sued (or settled) for offending others by way of malicious columns, on numerous occasions.

    In fact, these included Crikey columns slandering or defaming individuals including Steve Price and Nick Bolkus. Both received substantial monetary payouts from Crikey arising from the hateful articles.

    In addition, you got done recently for the online column/piece written about Tim Blair:
    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/2010/04/12/crikey-apologises-to-tim-blair/
    (p.s. don’t recall Bolt posting so many topics related to any of your lost cases, such as Pure Poison’s current obsession with Bolt displays)

    Despite the ridiculously obvious partisan actions in jumping all over your Public Enemy No 1 following his court loss, surely Crikey is the last bastion of publishing advice to be heeded when it comes to offensive pieces.

  16. DeanL

    The comments published on the Hun’s web page in response to Bolt’s column to me give a clear indication of just how heavily Bolt must moderate his blog to prevent people criticising him. And, it’s not abuse, it criticism dealt out in exactly the same tone and type as he dishes out in spades.

    Champion of Free Speech? I think not.

    But, kudos to the Hun for publishing it, even though some of the anti-indigenous sentiment published is quite offensive to me.

  17. joe2

    [Suggest others write and request the same.]

    All very well DeanL but my experience of trying to get comments published there, as sometimes here, is reliant on a moderator. The home of free speech Newslimited often does not publish views they do not like and Crikey is often reluctant to publish comments because they are scared of Newslimited.

  18. SHV

    Bears repeating (from the judgment, on the ‘test’ for reasonable reader):

    [The ordinary reasonable reader (or listener or viewer) is a person of fair average intelligence who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. That person does not live in an ivory tower but can and does read between the lines in the light of that person’s general knowledge and experience of worldly affairs.]

    In other words: Doesn’t necessarily respond as hoped, but knows a dog-whistle when they see one being blown. Hard.

  19. rhwombat

    Actually, I think what terrifies Bolt and his panderers (Bob, Bis, Mondo, padripper, and the rest of the entitled right) is the fear that Rupert’s power and control is ebbing, and may no longer guarantee immunity for the bullying classes. Why else would they defend the indefensible so desperately – and publicly? Kudos to Fran…and David Marr.

  20. Aliar Jones

    [Hmmm yes very interesting Fran. Have you ever thought about taking up a hobby or something?]

    If by hobby you mean, ‘using her brain’ then perhaps it’s time you found one of your own…

  21. Fran Barlow

    [Have you ever thought about taking up a hobby or something?]

    Posting my ideas in places such as this Mr Bob will suffice. I’m not much one for idle amusement.

  22. SonofMogh

    Well done Bob, you win Tool Of The Week.
    Got anything to say on the topic?
    Enlighten us as to why Limited News fails to mention “errors of fact, distortions of truth and inflammatory and provocative language”.

  23. Neil Walker

    The Australian bangs on about the importance of freedom of speech while editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell tries to silence his critics by threatening legal action (#twitdef).

    You couldn’t make it up. Although they often do.

    Hypocrites.

  24. calyptorhynchus

    I note that the federal opposition is considering amending the Act in government.

    I wonder what its amendment would be: “However, nothing in this Act shall prevent people from racist discourse”?

  25. Brown Bob

    Hmmm yes very interesting Fran. Have you ever thought about taking up a hobby or something?

  26. Fran Barlow

    This topic raises the broader question of how one may seek to reconcile what most of us imagine is a public good — freedom of the media — with other public goods we seek — accuracy, intellectual rigour in public commentary, social inclusion and so forth.

    In my opinion, attempts by the state to use the force of law to regulate what may be uttered are an incipient hazard to confidence in the transparency of governance, and should only be entertained within very narrow and carefully defined limits and then only according to transparent protocols. There used to be an unofficial “d-notice” system in this country, and even then I found that dangerous.

    It seems to me however that it would be possible to have a system in which breaches of the professional code of practice developed not by the state but by journalists might be judiciable. Breaches, rather than being punished by swingeing fines, could be entered, along with the reasoning, into a public register. So much of the media as declared itself to be compliant with good practice would be obliged to publish prominently extracts about their publications from the register on a daily basis listing the number of breaches and outstanding unresolved complaints that had been held to have sufficient merit to be the subject of judicial review. Any journalist or regular columnist who appeared would be obliged to have their “stats” (including mentions) alongside their by-lines. Those that declined would be deemed to be outside the system and would not be able to make claims to be amidst the responsible press.

    Publications withing the system could declare sections of their copy to be non-judiciable — since they were not intended as “news or serious comment” but something else (e.g. advertising, entertainment etc. ) Such sections could be marked with an appropriate “wash” or watermark. e.g yellow wash for ranting blogs, blue for advertising, etc … a specific disclaimer would attach warning that the group offered no warranty as to the accuracy of the copy, that the copy might well include serious errors of fact or inference and that readers should seek reliable sources of information upon which to rely before drawing conclusions.

    People could then make up their minds how much weight to give to the claims being made.

  27. jules

    Fran:

    The thing that offends Blot most is being forced to co-exist with truth and civilised conduct.

    That really does sum it up doesn’t it.

  28. shepherdmarilyn

    Why was the entire thing any of Bolt’s business anyway?

  29. DeanL

    Just posted this to Bolt’s column:

    “OK, Andrew, you value free speech. I challenge you to give up you column once for each of those you offended so they can put their side in a national media publication.

    Lets see how genuine about free speech you really are.”

    Suggest others write and request the same.

  30. fractious

    @ Fran (above), your precis of not just the Bromberg J ruling but also the Limited News code of conduct neatly skewers the whole “repression of free speech” schtick that Blot, his legion of faithful, assorted bits of the commentariat and various posters here (especially mondo and Bis/ HowardB) routinely and monotonously roll out.

    Had Blot written a general piece about perceived favouritism without naming people or making “errors of fact (and) distortions of truth” he wouldn’t now be in the place he is. But then, as you point out, any reasonable attempt to find out the actual facts of the matter would have revealed things that undermined his “point” in the first place.

    This wailing about “freedom of speech” being curtailed is nothing more than a smokescreen designed to conceal the real crux of the matter, or at least to divert attention away from it.

  31. Fran Barlow

    Some context. Bromberg ruled that the relief available under s18D (basically protection for good faith statements on matters of public interest) from the more general constraint in s18C was not available because Blot made no serious attempt to get his facts correct. He further noted that had he done so the general claim he sought to make would have been implausible. Thus, a good faith defence was excluded.

    One might note also The News Ltd Code of Conduct which runs in part as follows:

    1. Accuracy

    1.1 Facts must be reported impartially, accurately and with integrity.

    1.2 Clear distinction must be made between fact, conjecture and comment.

    1.3 Try always to tell all sides of the story in any kind of dispute.

    1.4 Do not knowingly withhold or suppress essential facts.

    1.5 Journalists should be reluctant to rely on only one source. Be careful not to recycle an error from one reference source to another. Check and check again.

    So readers had a form of warranty about the professional practice of Bolt (laughable since it is not known to have been enforced but there you have it)

    He can’t claim 18D with that in the baggage he took to court.

    Bolt might have made his trolling claims of misuse of identity for personal profit at the expense of authentic recipients (i.e those having the requisite amount of melanin in their faces to satisfy him) of a program to which he objects in toto (again one coughs at the hypocrisy) if he hadn’t actually referred to any specific living person and avoided the terrible and crushing sanction of having a correction and apology published on his behalf of course.

    Also relevant here in the code:

    8.1 Do not make pejorative reference to a person’s race, nationality, colour, religion, marital status, sex, sexual preferences, age, or physical or mental capacity.

    No details of a person’s race, nationality, colour, religion, marital status, sex, sexual preferences, age, or physical or mental incapacity should be included in a report unless they are relevant.

    This last point — relevance — clearly implies accuracy, since inaccurate things are ipso fact not relevant. Blot ought to have known that even by the published standards of his employer, leave aside those of “lefty lawyers” he was out of order. He choooses to work for them and can’t bleat now about the state oppressing him into noisy silence.

    Moreover, I’d say it’s telling that when you strip away the posturing and consider the “sanction” imposed by law, it’s to publish a correction and an apology.

    The thing that offends Blot most is being forced to co-exist with truth and civilised conduct. This offence is so grave in his view as to truncate his scope to express himself as he pleases, to “silence” him. He dare not run such a risk this morning, according to him.

    Need one add anything to the Blot’s admissions to see how they damn him and the army of the living dead behind him? Probably not.

  32. Maccas

    News {International}has already proved that they are illegal eaves droppers and allways bend the truth, so who would take their word for anything and Andrew is so full of him-self he can’t see what he did wrong, should be more people taking these type of writers to court. Now-a-days they write what they want to, doesn’t matter if its not true as, long as a little bit of it is, stinks. Maccas

  33. monkeywrench

    “…Mr Bolt who thoroughly researches what he subsequently writes.”

    Just what degree of stupidity exists in his followers is amply demonstrated by this impeccable piece of nonsense. Thanks Ross.

  34. Ross Sharp

    From comments on David Marr’s SMH/Age article …

    Mr Marr’s article is a predictable attack on a great Australian – Andrew Bolt.

    Mr Marr fails to discuss just why large amounts of government benefits ought to be received by people on the basis of what they claim, rather than who they really are.

    Mr Bolt raised legitimate issues for the community – and governnments – to consider.

    Hasn’t Mr Marr noticed that even left-wing so-called ‘civil libertarians’ suggest that this decision goes too far?

    By the way Mr Marr, many Victorians read both ‘The Age’ and ‘Herald Sun’ at work: it’s disappointing that in ‘The Age’s’ sister paper, you take cheap shots at a man who is merely engaging in a principle long held as virtuous in democracies, that of free speech. This is in contrast to the ‘Herald Sun’ which is taking a strong, principled stand in favour of true free speech by an intelligent, articulate man in Mr Bolt who thoroughly researches what he subsequently writes.

    Not surprised | Melbourne – September 29, 2011, 10:16AM

    Satire is dead.

  35. monkeywrench

    PS: Again, I apologise for the failure to put up the hundreds more emails today commenting on the case, or the nearly 500 yesterday. There is now a risk on commenting on such matters, and our moderators are understandably very cautious.

    In other words, it’s easier to claim the law has closed down commentary, rather than have the guts to publish the many replies that condemn him.

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