Our right to offend
Proposed laws tightening ‘offensive’ conduct and behaviour will stifle public debate, individual expression and artistic freedom, argues Trevor Ashley.
Americans get a lot of things wrong: gun control, Lindsay Lohan and miming at presidential inaugurations.
But occasionally they get things right, such as their liberal views on free speech.
I know I’ve been banging on about it a lot recently, but the word “offence” seems to be gaining more and more traction. Now it seems to have made it into a new discrimination protection law in the Federal Government. In the new Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 that is being proposed in the Senate, the discrimination of others is being broadened to behaviour or conduct that “offends, insults or intimidates”. There’s that word again.
Now several groups (many of whom you would think would never unite on any view) are giving feedback that this bill would take it too far, and I wholeheartedly agree. People’s differing views could be deemed offensive, and could therefore stop public debate on a matter. It would mean that if you told an offensive joke, or even wore an “offensive” outfit, people could take you to court. Considering every man and his dog has an opinion on everything these days on the internet, you would have to be careful about everything you say that is even close to the edge.
Now, I am absolutely not endorsing Gillard’s recent meetings with the ACL where she is letting religious groups discriminate in the workplace. That, of course, is outrageous in this day and age. That is true discrimination, and I think that anything to do with race or sexual preference should be protected. But I also believe that we should have the right to offend somebody. I have spent years of my career doing just that, never taking it to the point of intimidation or inciting violenc of course - two things that should absolutely be protected. But offend or insult? Please. It would mean that Joan Rivers would never be able to work in this country again.
Dick Smith just filmed what I think is a completely irreverent and silly commercial for his food products. Featuring an old lady coming out with, “There’s only one Dick I’ll be eating on Australia Day”, and a butch farmer proclaiming, “I love Dick!” It also stars a group of refugees running onto land who can’t wait to get their hands on Dick. Smith, that is. The network sensors believe this is not G-rated. I don’t really agree. If his name was Bruce, there would be no problem. But with the obviously inferred double entendre it’s deemed a problem. But would we want Dick to go to court because he offended people with his stupid and silly commercial?
I guess the thing I worry about most is that where will the line be drawn? I mean, I hate Cardinal Pell’s ridiculous twaddle as much as the next girl, but I don’t wish for him to be prosecuted for it. I hope he goes away, but I don’t want public debate or outrage to be controlled by the Federal Government. I want to be able to get up onstage and shock, offend and insult whoever I choose. Hopefully at one point or another, I’ll offend everyone in the audience, but there certainly won’t be any discrimination. I just don’t want the government telling me I can’t.