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The pursuit of the freedom of speech would probably be one of the longest and most bitterly fought political struggles in human history. A pantheon of the greatest philosophers and humanitarian thinkers since the ancient Greeks, have laid the foundation for the freedom of expression to be now recognized as a fundamental human right.

In the gutter of history a sludge of tyrants, autocrats, despots, dictators and assorted enemies of human progress and the pursuit of a quality human life, have gone to inordinate lengths and killed millions to “stifle even mild speech and criticism against them”.

It is extraordinary then in an apparently advanced and democratic country such as Australia, that the “forces of darkness” have emerged from the underworld to trample hard won free speech in the pursuit of the pettiness of offense. Ironically the “forces of darknesses” are using a vile language of offense which would find them the amongst the first to be executed if they were to get their way restricting speech. Recalling Hobbes the commentating society would be reduced to a war … of offense. Citizens would be offended that their opponents could take offense at their offense … ad nauseam.

The saving grace for the “forces” is the forbearance and tolerance implicit in the good Australian society. It is fair to say that the “forces” are “hiding” behind liberal tolerance and forbearance and maybe a less good liberal society would deal with them brutally.

In the meanwhile the “forces of darkness” are able to hijack reasoned and democratic debate with a spurious and childish red herring which is called offense. The good liberal society is patient and tolerates their blatant hypocrisy, but the public debate is painful and not constructive.

But the “forces of darkness” being very post modern are happy with “painful” as long as it helps with their construction of “their narrative”.

In fact the end game for the “forces of darkness” is not the narrative of offense, but rather the much more important narrative of “truth in government”. That offense is important is the myth.

When in government the last thing that the “forces of darkness” can tolerate is honesty and truth of reporting as to the actual progress of their government. This was clearly seen with the previous government of Australia where specific legislation was being prepared ironically under the guise of “truth in reporting” to restrain every and all criticism of that government. Criticism was subversive irrespective of the facts and there was no room for the gray interpretations. Socialist governments throughout history have always acted this way, trampling on free speech along the long march. Goebbels would feel very much at home here along with Stalin and Pol Pot.

Throughout history the important humanist thinkers have been focused on the principle of freedom of speech to question truth in government. Being distracted by the “forces of darkness” into the trite avenue of offense would have seemed trivial as it is pathetic.

The “forces of darkness” are motivated by the long game. They do not want introspection of their “governments” and are quite happy to ply trivial narratives on such childish distractions as offense to achieve their more sinister and dangerous controls on “truth on reporting” if and when they were ever to achieve government again. The “forces” are also quite prepared to take advantage of tolerant and forbearing liberal societies to achieve ubiquitous and often nefarious ends.

Freedom of speech is a treasured human natural right important to the future improvement of the human condition and good societies should not be distracted by trite and silly distractions on the “nasties of offense” put forward by the “forces of darkness”. As the old civil rights slogan calls, modern societies need to “keep their eyes on the prize” and that prize is the freedom to comment and discuss any and every aspect of government freely and openly with no restriction or “government” legislation telling us what is the truth. Legislation and restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, initially on offense, is the beginning of the slippery slope back to tyranny and totalitarianism.

Of course, if the “forces of darkness” wish to set an example for the broader society and restrain their vilification and offense, that would be a useful thing. But it would only be a very small thing.

A. K. Dragun

The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Article 19 goes on to say that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”.

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