Allan Takes Aim Blog

Free speech in danger

Posted on: 17 February 2011


First published The Chronicle Canberra , Tuesday 15 February 2011

That Australia is a land of free speech is rapidly losing credibility with many people; not without reason they think free speech is being extinguished. Christopher Pearson’s Commentary piece ‘OVERSENSITIVITY CAN ONLY COMPROMISE OPEN DEBATE’, (pg 14 The Australian, Saturday, 5 February) His piece about what happened to electronic journal On Line Opinion (OLO), 25th November 2010, following its publication of an anti gay marriage article by pro family activist Bill Muehlenberg, gives substance to this view.

Pearson reported that in an interview, Graham Young, editor of OLO, had told him two major advertisers a bank and IT company had withdrawn with their support because, according to company spokespersons, OLO – read the content of Muehlenberg’s article – did not meet their company’s social value criteria. And so OLO, regarded by Australian policy makers as an icon of free speech and valuable contributor to the political process is now at risk of ceasing publication.

Young also told Pearson that OLO had previously published articles on gay marriage and that an article by gay marriage activist Rodney Croome, had been published on 1 November, 2010. Check what Croome and Muehlenberg wrote at: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au

That OLO published both pieces plus others on the subject, serves to emphasise the reason for its existence: to present opinions from a wide range of writers on a wide range of subjects. In keeping with this policy OLO also allows readers to comment and make their views known about the opinions expressed by its contributors. OLO must not be allowed to fail.

(At this point I must declare a personal interest because OLO (which does not pay fees) has published a number of my Chronicle articles and some non-Chronicle articles. In both cases the articles have been subject to positive and negative comment.)

That advertisers withdrew support from OLO is bad enough, but that they did because they did not agree with Muehlenberg is cause for worry because it might herald a future when comment will be published only if it meets the values set by companies. In a sense their withdrawing the support reflects the growing social terrorism affecting many people in many counties who, to avoid penalties sometimes physical, sometimes financial and sometimes both, must heed the dictates of government and/or powerful organisations.

Some people might also think that in making the following suggestion I draw a very long bow: that the action of these two advertisers smacks of a return to the days when at job interviews, people were asked what were their political and religious beliefs. And yes it happened in Australia, as I found out at my first job interview after arriving in Australia in 1969. 

In Muehlenberg’s case however, it is not only his opinion these advertisers are censoring.  OLO is being censored also, as is the opinion of all contributors. So what next? Will opinion writers who can’t get published because of censorship, need to become pamphleteers like Tom Paine to make their views known? Sad as I am that such censorship has occurred it will be sadder still l if we do not rescue OLO’s strong voice for free speech.

 As for the subject that occasioned the censorship, being agnostic, my personal views about gay marriage will satisfy neither Muehlenberg nor Croome. As far as I am concerned marriage is neither a sacrament as averred by Muehlenberg nor a right as averred by Croome. For me, marriage is simply the word that, over millenniums, came to be used by humans to recognise the union of a man and a woman, that not only became a convention but also as a contract they considered essential for human survival. In all of my research on this issue I can find no trace of any other union of humans being recognised as marriage. 

The fact is, the word marriage describes the world’s oldest form of contract, a contract entered into by a man and a woman that existed long before religion and churches were established and a contract my wife and I entered into and have adhered to for more than fifty years.

To try and end on a humorous note, marriage is probably the contract that helped create the world’s oldest profession.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s beast community news. Published every Tuesday  

NB. Space limitations prevented this addendum being published in The Chronicle

 Why help save On Line Opinion?

 Let me answer straightaway. Free speech is essential to the practice of real democracy and any attempt to curb people’s opportunity to publish opinion must be resisted if democracy is to survive. The curbing effect is the reason for the foregoing article “Gay Marriage causes loss of free speech’ which some people might think simply another attack on homosexuality. It isn’t.  See Chronicle column.

You might not agree with the article but like On Line Opinion (OLO) this website gives you the liberty to say what you think. And even if you disagree with me you are welcome to express your opinion as strongly and politely as possible.

And let me say further that the intent of the article was not to argue that a contract between two people of the same sex should not be called a marriage but that it should be given a title that clearly defined it as not being between a man and women but between two people of the same sex. And nor is it an argument that a contract of this kind should contain different provisions to the contract between a man and a woman. IT SHOULD’NT !

The thrust of the article was to raise the awareness of people to the fact that when governments and people of power arbitrarily curtail free speech, slowly but surely we are starting down the road to repeating some of the most horrific periods in world history.

Lord Acton said: All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sadly Acton’s statement accurately describes what has led to the state of turmoil currently existing in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, The Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and that’s only a few examples; there are many more.

Unfortunately, Australians and people in other soi -disant Western democracies, sit back contentedly, give themselves a verbal pat on the back and say: it couldn’t happen here. Couldn’t it? Well I beg to differ. As the article shows, it has happened to OLO and if it has happened to OLO, which organ of free speech will be next to feel the power of the powerful.

While the internet should be a valuable source of encouragement to free speech, OLO is an example of things which put that proposition in doubt.  Will the same thing happen to other online journals that rely on the support of advertising to keep democracy functioning? And will governments do the same?

If you are prepared to let OLO sink simply because you think you are not affected, think again. One only has to take a look at history to find the reason that dictatorship thrives in various countries was because citizens didn’t think it could happen in their country. Some are now paying the penalty for their complacency.

So take a look at OLO at: www.onlineopinion.com.au and then take action. In doing so you will be helping boost free speech and democracy

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14 Responses to "Free speech in danger"

I consider marriage to be for the purpose of raising children. This is why I do not fully understand why people who do not intend to raise children marry each other. In former days, it was socially unacceptable for a man and a woman to share a house (without a chaperon) unless they were married. That reason does not apply today, except in families whose lives are run by their religious leaders.

Two people who sincerely intend to raise children together should be permitted to create a stable environment within which to do just that. Marriage implies a commitment to stay together until the children have been raised. “More, if affinity” as they say.

Elderly people may choose to marry for companionship. Should they be forbidden from so doing because they are not of an age where they can expect to be able to raise a child before they die? This could be another interesting debate.

Why can’t we just learn to accept each other the way that we are? If it is not hurting anyone else, why can’t we just leave people alone to get on with their lives, while we live our own the way that we have chosen?

For Heaven’s sake, let’s just change the texts to make marriage “between two people”, and be done with it!

Free speech is one of the foundations of a mature and tolerant society.

We can see that suppressing it merely delays the inevitable and compacts the timeframe for change.

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I use wordpress.Regards, Don

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