Watch This Space: Doc Martin picks over this week's 18C and Safe Schools bunkum

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Introducing IA's new weekly column by the legendary (Doc) Martin Hirst as he picks over this week's bunkum on 18C and Safe Schools from our bigots and boneheads — and how to get the dirt on Rita Panahi courtesy @Panahi_Fans.

Lovely Rita, meet her mates

AS SOMEONE who’s been in and around journalism for more than 40 years, it is never pleasing when a colleague is caught cheating. Every time one journalist is found out to be lying, making stuff up or stealing someone else’s copy, it stains our collective reputation.

An accusation of professional wrongdoing against one journalist can eventually bring the whole editorial chain of command undone.

When it happens on an industrial scale, like the News of the World scandal, a newspaper can be shut overnight and an entire family dynasty can be destabilised.

But even the actions of one rogue reporter can destroy the reputations of whole layers of senior editorial management.

The Jayson Blair affair that almost destroyed The New York Times when it was exposed in 2003 is a case in point. Blair systematically plagiariased his way to several front page stories and was only undone when a young intern discovered her work in one Blair’s “exclusives”.

And high profile, high impact, high exposure journalists need to be particularly careful. Nothing damages a reporter’s credibility more than being exposed as a fake and a fraud.

It’s best to avoid plagiarism and most of us do — but sometimes, the urge to make a point overtakes the impulse to avoid risk taking.

But sometimes it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person. Karmic comebacks tend to favour the brave.

In this case, the very brave Rita Pahani, the self-styled Miss Judgment of Facebook and columnist for Melbourne’s Herald Sun has found herself accused of plagiarism.

In her case, it looks like she’s taken copy, including interviews, reported for News Corps’ suburban Leader newspapers and pasted it into her own columns.

Of course, the column is embellished with Rita’s own particular take on events, but the lifted quotes are useful to help make point. It’s all ‘”in-house” of course, so in all likelihood Rita’s bosses will turn a blind eye to her mistake. After all, that’s the policy about whole lot of editorial breaches.

None the less, it will be interesting to see if Newscorpse management does respond.

As the company Code of Conduct for editorial staff says quite plainly at clause '1.8 Plagiarism is theft.'

The Herald Sun Editorial Code of Conduct (Screenshot heraldsun.com.au)

Rita’s mates

Rita has a no moderation policy on her Facebook page and her Twitter account also attracts a large following. If Rita takes a dislike to you (trust me, if you’re reading this with any degree of sympathy, Rita doesn’t like you) and signals that to her dedicated fans the results are what one observer describes as a “pile on”.

Rita and her merry band of pranksters recently had a go at a friend of mine, a lovely woman called Fran Barlow (@fran_b__). Fran is a teacher and a green left type. The sort of interesting, thoughtful and bolshie woman who Rita likes to deride as “social justice warriors”.

Well, Fran isn’t a wallflower. After all, she was reading the collected works of Lenin in the late 1970s.

So there was no harm done. Take a look at the thread for yourself though to see the kinds of insults and slurs that followers of Rita Panahi are capable of.

It’s also worth noting that the Code of Conduct mentions News Corp Australia’s Social Media Policy (see above Clause 1.9).

It’s all down to @Panahi_Fans.

Some people do sterling work on Twitter but can largely go unnoticed. Once such hero is @Panahi_Fans, the supplier of the most excellent screenshot above. This account tirelessly follows the work of Ms Panahi to highlight the classics and the gems so that the rest of us don’t have to read all of her great body of work to be enlightened.

If you like this, you might also like @TheKennyDevine and @boltcomments.

They speak for themselves.

Freedom Commissoner has a strange way of supporting gay rights

I was horrified earlier this week when I read a piece in The Australian reporting on an email newly-minted Liberal MP Tim Wilson had written to the national youth advocacy group Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) viciously attacking his fellow gay rights activist, Roz Ward.

I was horrified, but not surprised.

You’ll remember it was The Australian which fomented and breathed life into the hateful red-baiting of Roz. [Disclaimer: Ward is a member of Socialist Alternative and I publicly associate myself with this group, though not formally a member at the moment.]

Over the past year, The Oz has taken every opportunity to attack Ward for her politics and her association with the Safe Schools Coalition.

Roz nearly lost her job earlier this year when her employer, La Trobe University, almost caved in to the vicious trolling she was subjected to by the national broadsheet.

According to Wilson’s email, Ms Ward’s previous criticism of the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality were ‘indulgent and belligerent’ and had ‘seriously harmed’ the Safe Schools Coalition’s work with church-sponsored schools.

We might have hoped that the nation’s leading defender of human rights, appointed with great fanfare by George Brandis, might have lived up to his position and defended Ros.

It might come as a surprise to hear that the self-styled Freedom Commissioner protested to the FYA Board that Ward’s innocuous comments could offend the Catholic Church.

It’s one thing for Wilson to oppose Ward’s socialist politics. After all, her socialism (and mine) are light years away from Tim’s increasingly alt-right libertarian neoliberal fantasies. We expect strong words to be exchanged.

However, I’m bitterly disappointed that Tim Wilson, a former Commissioner for Human Rights and now a member of Parliament would use his position as a paid servant of the Australian people to attack Roz so personally. Even worse, that he has not since distanced himself from the publication of the email in The Australian on 29 August.

Was the June 15 email personal or political?

I have been trying to get to the bottom of this story for the past few days, but so far I’ve hit a brick wall.

All I want to know is whether or not the email of 5 June 2015 was sent by Tim Wilson in his official capacity and/or via his Human Rights Commission account.

I think this is an important point.

There’s obviously more in the email than published in the paper — but what?

Was Wilson using his role as Human Rights Commissioner to put pressure on the FYA to back off in supporting Safe Schools and/or Roz Ward?

If it was a private email, isn’t this a conflict of interest for Tim Wilson, to be attacking what is clearly a pro-human rights program while supposedly being a champion of human rights?

And what about the moral contradiction of a free speech fundamentalist like Wilson seeking to use his publicly-funded position to damage the reputation, professional work and paid employment of a fellow gay rights activist?

Mr Wilson has not answered my email nor returned my phone call and the Human Rights Commission suggested I lodge an FOI.

The FYA did not want to comment but said that its relationship with Safe Schools and its staff were good.

I know Roz Ward. She is a wonderful, strong, intelligent and determined woman who will not let the attacks on her wear her down. She is surrounded by comrades, me included, who know the truth about her.

It’s a pity that Tim Wilson didn’t reflect a little more deeply on the wider meaning of his emotional maiden speech this week.

Mr Wilson also opened up about inner torment during his childhood.

The story of finding myself dominated my teenage years.

For six of them, I let fear decide and determine who I could be. It wasn't until I was 18 that I chose to confront that fear.

It was a fear that took an energetic 12-year-old and hollowed his confidence to eventually doubt his legitimate place in the world.

Yet it was in those depths, that I found my deeper, inner strength.

Ironically, it is precisely the prevention of such a hollowing out of young gay and transgender Australians by homophobic bullying that motivates Roz Ward and the Safe Schools’ coalition.

That the former Freedom Commissioner acknowledges the pain of such bullying in his early life adds even more sad irony to his attacks on Roz as publicised this week.

What a week that was

At the start of the week, I predicted that the first few days of the 45th parliament would be torrid. It proved to be that and much more. Busy too with over 20 odd bills introduced.

I said Shorten had to stick it to the Fizza, ‘oppose, oppose, oppose’ I wrote. He did that and Labor had a significant moral victory with the ambush by the numbers late on the last sitting day.

Turnbull was ropeable and so he should be.

He’s annoyed, no doubt, too by the renegades pushing for changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Gang of 20, bandits and brigands every one of them has been outed.

The bigots were called out in parliament this week by Labor and the Greens.

Both made the very sensible point that the only possible reason to change the law is so that the supporters of the change can feel more comfortable in their racism.

It is simply because they want the right to “offend” and “insult” based on race.

What reasonable person wants that extra "right"?

The band of bright and not so bright, young and not so young things of the new right and the Institute of Public Affairs who now inhabit both houses also got a call out late on Thursday afternoon.

This speech by Tasmanian Green senator Nick McKim was broadcast on the radio and you can read the full transcript here (also the previous extract):

I thank Senator Smith [previous extract] for his contribution. He is invariably worth listening to closely, …However, it is beholden on me to point out that you have actually signed on to change section 18C by removing the words 'offend' and 'insult'…Senator Smith. It is worth my pointing out that in my view, and with the greatest respect, inherent contradiction in your contribution…

If you want to remove the words 'offend' and 'insult' from the Racial Discrimination Act, logic follows that you want Australians to be able to offend and insult based on race. What reasonable person would want to offend another Australian based on their race? I do not think there is a reasonable justification for offending and insulting fellow Australians based on their race…

That’s not a bad start to the year for Senator McKim, but it was his closing remarks that most impressed me.

I’ll leave them with you:

I also want to point out in the very limited time left to me in this debate that there are many more ominous rights to the threats of ordinary Australians in section 18C. I am going to call people out here and they are the right wing culture warriors in Australia – I am not referring to Senator Smith, but there are others in this place, including Senator Paterson and Senator Duniam, who is the new senator for Tasmania – who will take every opportunity to crib their way through our statute books to make Australia a less safe place for people they do not agree with.

I have seen this through my life. I say to Senator Paterson and his IPA – he is an agent of the IPA in this place, make no mistake about it – and to Senator Duniam and others that I will not lie down before them, and let them crib their way any further than they are able to do.

I will defend section 18C to my last breath in this place.

I want to point out to the chamber that threats like the growth in inequality in this place – the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Australia – is a significant challenge to the rights of Australians.

Global warming and sea-level rise are significant challenges to the rights of Australians. The ever-expanding surveillance that is done in the national security – which all of those proponents of changes to section 18 C line up to support – is a significant challenge to the rights of everyday Australians.

But we do not hear a peep from these people about those things.

We simply hear that we need to change 18C so that people can be offensive and insulting on the basis of race in this country. Well, not on my watch!

Well said, senator. Watch this space ...

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

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