Recently, the well known columnist and blogger Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act. Justice Mordy Bromberg found Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times contravened the Racial Discrimination Act by publishing two articles on racial identity which contained “errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”, reported the Herald Sun.
Ron Merkel, QC, for the complainants, said there was no attempt by members of the group to shut down freedom of speech or debate about racial identity issues. Mr Merkel said Bolt was free to express his views on the subject but should not have chosen to attack the nine individuals he named in his columns and blog.
Many of us, including myself, may not agree with Andrew Bolt’s views on this issue and many others. Whatever happened to the famous saying, sometimes incorrectly attributed to Voltaire which many in the legal profession are fond of quoting: ” I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. ”
Yes, there are a number of errors in Bolt’ articles on this topic. Is Bolt being prosecuted for publishing errors? It is true that had the facts been presented accurately Bolt’s arguments would not hold much water. For example, he questioned indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt‘s Aboriginality, incorrectly stating that her father was German and that she is somehow claiming benefits that should be the right of indigenous people of ‘purer blood’. In the sometimes heated court exchanges, Bolt took exception to the prosecution’s comparison of the debate and Bolt’s views to Nazi race laws, the Holocaust and eugenics. Bolt argued those who chose to identify with only one part of their background over another were contributing to racism and came at the cost of less focus on the important issues of education, housing, health and poverty.
It is interesting to note that earlier in the year, Larissa Berendt attracted criticism after using her Twitter account to describe watching bestiality on television as “less offensive than Bess Price“, an Aboriginal woman in favour of the radical Northern Territory intervention. “I watched a show where a guy had sex with a horse and I’m sure it was less offensive than Bess Price.”
Ms Price told The Australian she was appalled by the comment. She accused Professor Behrendt, an Australian of the Year finalist, of trying to silence her because of her different views. “I’m going to seek legal advice,” she said. “This is worse than what she is accusing Andrew Bolt of.” source: The Australian
Ms Berendt replied: “The tweet has been taken out of context. I did not mean any offence to Bess Price personally and I am on the record with views contrary to hers on the intervention and she knows that.”
Andrew Bolt may well have made factual errors. He may also be motivated by less than noble motives but that alone does not disqualify him from putting his views forward. We often take it for granted that we live in an enlightened society where rights like freedom of speech are taken for granted, yet how many people have lost their jobs because they chose to air views critical of their employers on social media sites?
We may not yet fear the midnight knock from the KGB and banishment to the gulags but these are only the means of repression. Is our society so different from totalitarian regimes in purpose? That said, Andrew Bolt seems to have scored himself his own TV show in the aftermath of his court case ‘The Bolt Report‘. Perhaps any publicity is good publicity.