Human rights

Dear Ms Grace Collier

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After losing sleep over Grace Collier's column, 'Modern rights mean few for most', on freedom of speech, Dr Martin Hirst penned this open letter.


I read with some interest your column in the Weekend Australian. I woke up disturbed in the early hours of Sunday morning and I put pen to paper in order to formulate a response. I hope you might take a moment to read it.

I’m sure you can follow along; just point your finger at the screen and silently mouth-breathe the words as you go. If you have trouble with some of the bigger words, why don’t you text [colleague] Chris Kenny, I believe he owns a thesaurus and has marked the more difficult passages with a wax crayon borrowed from Boris [Paul "Boris" Whittaker].

Can you sense the cold, dark scent of rank hypocrisy?

I’m sure you can. You might recognise it as the nauseating smell of the free speech fundamentalists hard at work. Like you, the "fundies" are beating away at their keyboards around-the-clock to ensure that bigots, racists and homophobes can maintain the right to be offensive.

Your column in yesterday’s Weekend Australian is a colourful example of this genre of opinion-writing. Like you, the free speech fundies cry in unison that allegations of racism against "our cartoonist Bill Leak" are "frivolous and vexatious".

Alongside you, the fundies are lining up to spew out column after column of invective aimed at what you so accurately describe as the

‘... ready to take offence at anything brigade.'

Your defence of "yoga pants man" must have cut the fun police to the quick. It’s just a pity that you can’t find anything more serious to get upset about. Of course, seriousness is not your business, is it?

You would rather just poke fun, tease and hurl abuse; just like you did two weeks ago on Q&A.

It is easier for you to make up fatuous arguments with strawman constructs like the "modern rights movement" whose members (according to you)

‘... believe they have the right never to feel affronted.'

It is easier to ridicule these made-up things than tackle real issues, isn’t it "snowflake"?

I love how you adopt as your own the over-used clichés which you so effortlessly borrow from your fellow-travellers on the libertarian right. That is so much simpler and cleverer than thinking for yourself.

Of course, you have to reference Section 18C of the Human Rights Act don’t you? That is at the top of this month’s talking points memo from Boris. By my count, yours is about the umpteenth column on that belaboured topic in the past three weeks.

You managed to squeeze in the doom-saying so common to columns like yours. Your so-called "offence-takers" are a ‘blight on the Western world’ and the ‘social tyrants of the modern world’, so if they have their way ‘it’s all down hill from here’. Yep, all the way to the gulag, am I right? Hashtag "youknowitmakessense". Check with Chris again, if you’re not sure.

Thing is, we’ve seen it all before, Grace. It is the mantra of your fellow clowns, it is boilerplate opinion; page after copycat page, tedious whinge after tedious whinge.

The last remaining few readers of the "Liberal Party Paper" must be thoroughly indoctrinated by now; maybe you could let Boris know it’s time to move on. 

However, what I really want to talk to you about today is the ways in which your colleagues among Rupert’s keyboard monkeys turn a blind eye, block their ears, button their lips and become suddenly illiterate when the very same right you demand for Bill Leak is claimed by anyone you disagree with.

A "funny, objectionable, argumentative, challenging, insulting and offensive" Bill Leak cartoon

In fact, you and the other hypocritical cry-babies in the Murdoch stable are far worse than silent when those you disagree with are punished for their "offensive" speech.

You proud defenders of the right to be offensive and belittlers of the unstated "right not to be offended" mindlessly demand of everyone that they repeat after you "je suis Bill". You expect this of all of us as if, by repetition of this over-used mantra, Leak can be absolved of personal and professional responsibility for the twisted and bigoted views he holds and expresses with monotonous regularity in his crude and offensive cartoons.

Nobody, least of all you Grace, should forget that you stand shoulder to shoulder with the sanctimonious whiners who rush to defend Leak with a tired cliché borrowed from history and too often wrongly attributed to Voltaire. In fact, I’d be surprised if any one of your clamouring comrades know who or what Voltaire really was.

But you have the cliché – or at least a garbled version of it – tattooed under your eyelids when you sign the Faustian contract with Rupert. I’m sure that Boris has written it in crayon above the kool-aid dispensers. You know the quote I mean:

"Something, something ... I don’t like what you say … I’m prepared to defend to the death your right to freely express any stupid opinion you like."

As a paid-up member of the Rupert Club you are a subscriber to this achingly tired cliché; so let’s just remind ourselves what you had to say in concluding your Saturday diatribe about the rights of bigots and the non-right to take offence.

‘No one should think they have the right not to be offended, and everyone should feel the right to be funny, objectionable, argumentative, challenging, insulting and offensive.'

This is the common theme repeated ad nauseum in the News "NewsCorpse" Corp press and by all of Murdoch’s minions on their blogs and through their social media accounts. You are one of them, Grace.

All of us outside of this bunker remember very well who you are. Your names are synonymous with those who also cheer loudly the demise of anyone whose offence is to be offensive in ways that do not accord with your own version of "politically correct" speech.

You won’t remember any of this Grace, because in the interests of your boss, all history that does not accord with your world view is conveniently forgotten.

So as an aide memoire, let me provide you with a few quick examples.

Do you remember the case of comedian and former Fairfax columnist Catherine Deveny?

In 2010, Deveny was sacked by The Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge because of "offensive" tweets sent out during that year’s Logie Awards evening.

I’ve scoured the Internet in the hope of finding a column in any NewsCorpse publication that defended Deveny’s right to tweet offensively and humourously. Instead, I found this report from the Herald Sun.

I know it’s hard to believe, given the crusading tone of the NewsCorpse body corporate these days, but this is how the Herald Sun reported Catherine’s 'funny, objectionable, argumentative, challenging, insulting and offensive' tweets:

The comments Deveny posted on Twitter through the course of the awards ceremony sparked outrage, with entertainment and media figures calling for her sacking as a columnist with The Age.

Deveny drew the most criticism for writing that she hoped 11-year-old TV star Bindi Irwin "gets laid'' and that former TV host Rove McManus' wife Tasma "didn't die too'' referring to the loss of his first wife Belinda Emmett to cancer in 2006.

Australian entertainment stalwart John-Michael Howson hit out at Deveny.

"What she has done is simply unforgiveable [and] I cannot understand why a major newspaper would give her an open forum.''

Astonishing, isn’t it?

Not only did the Herald Sun fail to defend Deveny with the very same arguments now used to claim freedom of expression for Bill Leak, the paper gave space to John-Michael Howson — an obvious "offence-taker". Howson was given space to vent his middle-aged white man prejudice against the comedian. He must have been 'waiting, watching, listening, ready to pounce' as soon as his 'snowflake' sensibilities were offended by Deveny’s humour.

Can you sense the rising steam from this brown and gooey pile?

The case of former SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre is even more interesting.

In 2014, McIntyre was sacked by SBS because he dared to criticise the ANZAC myth in a series of tweets.McIntyre’s tweets were historically accurate but offending the myth of ANZAC with the truth does not sit well with the free speech fundamentalists.

To simplify this, Grace, in terms that you might understand, it is speech up with which they will not put.

And, again, the good old Herald Sun led the charge against Scott:

Mr McIntyre’s rant on social media late on Anzac Day has been drawn outrage from Australian leaders, including Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who labelled his comments “despicable”.

“Difficult to think of more offensive or inappropriate comments,” Mr Turnbull tweeted.

“Despicable remarks which deserve to be condemned.”

No, I’m not making this up, offence taker-in chief in this case, was that most genteel of intellectual giants, Malcolm "Fizza" Turnbull.

Not only did Turnbull tweet that he was offended by McIntyre’s comments, but in his role as communications minister he got in touch with SBS to make his displeasure known (he’s a repeat offender in this regard). As a result, Scott was sacked.

And where were you and the free speech fundamentalists who claim to honour the spirit of Voltaire? Well, you, and they, were lining up to kick Scott McIntyre in the balls and to cheer his dismissal. Lead ball-kicker on this occasion (as on many others) was the delightful Andrew "Dutchie" Bolt.

One example of Bolt’s staunchness on this issue is more than enough:

SBS boss Michael Ebeid has rightly fired McIntyre for compromising “the integrity of the network and audience trust”.

If journalists portray their own country as the worst terrorist nation — a land of white trash with an army of rapists and murderers — who can blame some young Muslims for feeling obliged to destroy it?

Of all “hate speech” now, McIntyre’s is becoming the most dangerous. He had to go.

That’s right, your friend, free-thinker and courageous convicted racist, Bolt described McIntyre’s tweets as "hate speech" and he supported the reporter’s summary dismissal from SBS. Luckily for McIntyre, Fair Work Australia did not think the dismissal was warranted and McIntyre was able to reclaim his dignity, if not his job. On that occasion earlier this year, Bolt kept his counsel and said not a word.

Are your nostrils twitching yet, Grace?

The third case is very close to home.

In May 2014 and again in March 2016, I was threatened with the sack from Deakin University for allegedly offensive tweets (for the record I resigned). My crime on both occasions, according to Deakin, was that I had used the everyday word "fuck" in a couple of tweets. I used this language to respond to Twitter trolls inspired by another of your friends, Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair.

I am not going to go into this in any detail; a decent summary of the Deakin matter from this year is contained in this Guardian piece by Amanda Meade:

Deakin found that content posted to Hirst’s private Twitter account @ethicalmartini was “offensive and/or disrespectful and/or threatening and had the potential to damage the reputation of the university”.

The former journalist was suspended without pay on 19 April after being accused of serious misconduct.

Hirst told Guardian Australia he was disappointed and saddened by the university’s decision and denied threatening a student in one of the tweets.

The university received a complaint about an exchange on 20 March 2016 in which Hirst said “so are you happy to fail commerce?” to a Deakin University student, Lachlan McDougall, who had insulted his teaching.

The exchange came about after the News Corp columnist Rita Panahi said Hirst was a “rent-seeking simpleton full of bitterness & bile” after he called her unstable.

On a personal level, Deakin’s attempts to sack me, over what is essentially a free speech issue, have been traumatic and ultimately cost me a lot of money, a loss of dignity and my livelihood.

At the time, in 2014 and this year, I did not once hear from you. You did not speak up for my right to be offensive; you didn’t lift a finger to defend me.

That’s OK, I never expected you to. In fact, your close friends and NewsCorpse colleagues went out of their way to goad Deakin into sacking me.

I have it on good authority that in 2014, Bolt actually called the Deakin Vice-Chancellor to offer his advice on how she should handle my dismissal. I understand that, to her credit, the vice-chancellor refused his call. Tim "Frightbat" Blair was the instigator of the troll pile on in 2014 with this post on his blog.

But Tim wasn’t finished with me at that time. Instead of championing my right to be offensive – you know, like your line: ‘funny, objectionable, argumentative, challenging, insulting and offensive’ – Mr Blair threw a party in his pants, not once, but twice, when Deakin finally moved to get rid of me. He is so modest and refused to claim any credit for his role in the sorry saga.

In July 2014, Blair was disappointed that Deakin hadn’t sacked me then and was offended by my tweets. Well, not really but it was convenient for him to pretend to be. His real agenda is that he hates me for my politics.

This is clearly the case now, as it was then. Blair doesn’t like it that I’m a Marxist. He doesn’t give a flying fart for my rights. Blair will die in a ditch for the rights of The Australian’s chief bigot Bill Leak, but all thoughts of Voltaire flea from his brain as soon as politics is introduced.

The real story then, Grace, was about politics, not offence taken or given — but you right-wingers are not beyond obfuscation, dissembling and dirty little lies in pursuit of your own agendas.

Funnily enough, Grace, it has taken one of your own, a conservative libertarian but one with courage and conviction, to call out the hypocrisy.

Here’s what Lushington Dalrymple Brady has to say about you and your colleagues:

Free speech, as far as I’m concerned, is an issue that should cross tribal lines. My whole point was that the right, who howled when the left failed to defend the free speech of Andrew Bolt, should be ashamed of themselves for not defending the free speech of Martin Hirst. Snickering into their merlots because some cartoon villain for their “side” got taken down was not good enough. Free speech is for everyone, or no-one.

As Chomsky says, if you don’t believe in freedom of expression for people you despise, you don’t believe in it at all.

(Thanks, young badger, enjoy your day in the sun.)

Ms Collier, you are a complete and utter fraud, you belong in the bin along with the rest of the snickering, merlot-quaffing, pretentious, bile-driven bigots in the NewsCorpse bunker.

I’m sorry if this offends you but take your own advice and bend over, backwards if you like.

See you at Rupert’s funeral,

Doc Martin

Read more by Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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