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If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole
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Sick kids and paying upfront

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Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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Free speech, the voiceless and the liars for capitalism

The exercise of free speech by citizens and a critical media is a vital tool for the preservation of our admittedly limited capitalist democracy.

In the age of neoliberalism two trends have undermined both the right to free speech and its necessary corollary, the ability to exercise that right. To be clear, the latter of course in capitalism is dependent in the main on how many billions you have but even the limited free speech ordinary working class people have or may want to exercise is being curtailed gradually. We are the voiceless.

The first trend, in Australia and elsewhere, has been the ongoing concentration of media ownership. Australia’s media is particularly concentrated. As Terry Flew and Ben Goldsmith said in an August 2013 article in The Conversation:

Among capital city and national daily newspapers, which are by far the most influential in setting the news agenda, News Corporation titles accounted for 65% of circulation in 2011. Fairfax Media, the next biggest publisher, controlled just 25%. Those figures may have shifted slightly since then, but there is no doubt that News Corp Australia is our most dominant player – as academic Matthew Ricketson pointed out in The Conversation’s media panel blog, it owns 14 of our 21 metro daily and Sunday newspapers.

Such a concentration necessarily reports the differences in society through a narrow prism and restricts the range of those differences that are debated in the dailies.

Might not online news and opinion challenge that? No. According to the Department of Communications in its Background Policy Paper Number 3 of June 2014 on Media control and ownership, ‘over the 8 years to 2013, either News Corp or Fairfax owned the majority of the top ten most popular news websites, and this dominance has been remarkably stable over the period.’

A wider point too is that even if there were more competitors that would not necessarily mean more diversity of opinion. Capitalist media reflect the priorities of capitalism. So even when there is debate that debate is limited to options within capitalism. Despite the fact that poll after poll shows ordinary Australians well to the left of politicians and newspaper owners on almost every social and economic issue, there are no socialists writing for the mainstream media.

This Noam Chomsky meme captures that truth.

 

Even that might be too generous because Keynesians are few and far between in the pages of The Murdoch owned The Australian or the Fairfax owned Australian Financial Review. Even the sometimes, maybe, almost Keynesians in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times are fairly meek and imbued with not just traces but sometimes ore loads of neoliberalism.

It is fantastic that people across the globe are showing solidarity with those murdered in Paris and their families and friends. It is fantastic they are coming out to defend free speech. I support them. I do not support however the racist and misogynist journal Charlie Hebdo, one key purveyor of the Islamophobia that infects French society, including some of the Left. Racist and misogynist are the descriptors used by various writers including Teju Cole in The New Yorker to describe Charlie Hebdo.

However the support of the 1% across the globe for free speech appears just a little hypocritical. The names Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange come to mind. So too do Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks.

The same Australian state or sections of it which now announces, via Tony Abbott, that ‘the cornerstone of progress is free speech’ has in the past shown no compunction in banning free speech for some.

In 1917 the Hughes government smashed the printing presses of the Industrial Workers of the World and made membership illegal. In 1951 Menzies banned the Communist Party of Australia.

Jo Bjelke-Petersen banned street protests in Queensland in 1971.

The words of former Prime Minister John Gorton go some way to explaining this free speech paradox of the 1%. ‘We will tolerate dissent,’ he said, ‘as long as it remains ineffective.’

Today the approach is apparently a little more subtle. The Violent Lawless Association Disestablishment (‘VLAD’) laws in Queensland ostensibly targets bikie gangs but in fact can be applied to any loosely defined ‘çriminal’ organisation, including political organisations, that the government of the day determines. Other states and territories have similar laws or are considering implementing them.

In the name of fighting terrorism, journalists in Australia can now be jailed for up to ten years for publishing material relevant to terrorism investigations. ISPs must retain data for 2 years. People whom the spy agency, ASIO,  or the Australian Federal Police deem terrorist suspects can be locked up for up to 12 days without access to anyone in the outside world including family, friends or lawyers. Dr Mohammed Haneef felt the fury of this when he was held incommunicado for over a week on suspicion of being involved in a terrorist bombing in India. He was not.

ASIO imprisoned 54 genuine refugees on the basis they were a threat to national security. There has been no trial and no conviction, just a nod from ASIO. In the year 2013/14 ten were released. Over the last few months ASIO quietly released another ten. Some of them had been held without trial for up to five years. Another two may be released soon. In other words 22 of the 54 initially detained for up to five years without trial have been released.  Not much free speech for them.

The thousands of men, women and children held in Australia’s concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru have committed no crime. They have no free speech. The stolen generations past and present have no voice. Aborigines murdered in custody no longer have any voice.

As for attacking and killing journalists, the West has an enviable record. In 1999, NATO bombed a Serbian TV station which then British PM Tony Blair called a ‘legitimate target.

The US bombed Al Jazeera in Afghanistan and Iraq during its invasions. As the newspaper says:

The US bombed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul during the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, and attacked the media outlet multiple times during the 2003 Iraq invasion, including the killing of Ayoub, despite the fact that Al Jazeera supplied the Pentagon with their headquarter’s coordinates in Baghdad in February 2003.

According to the same report, in the first ten years the invading forces killed hundreds of journalists. Not only that but the up to 1.5 million Iraqis who have died as a result of the invasion don’t have much free speech either. By contrast, the war criminals who ordered this invasion are still roaming free, sprouting absolute lies about the best evidence at the time showing there were weapons of mass destruction.

In the most recent Gaza war Israel bombed Gaza into the stone age. It killed 17 journalists. Not one of the ruling elite currently crying crocodile tears for French journalists said anything. Je suis Gaza.

That fact gives a hint at the reality of free speech under capitalism. It is free speech for the 1% and their trusted lackeys. They can and do have media access. The rest of us have no or little voice.

The defence of free speech is an important struggle for the left. The demonstrations in defence of free speech prompted by the murder of the Charlie Hedbo journalists offer some hope for us to both join in that movement and argue for an expansion of free speech from the ruling class to all of us as well as fight Islamophobia. In Australia that means being involved, as best we can and when opportunities present, to mobilise against the growing neoliberal encroachment of and restrictions on free speech and other civil liberties and any racist outbreaks.  It also means pointing out the limited nature of free speech under capitalism and highlighting the attacks of the 1% on it and explaining the possibilities for its expansion to give voice to the voiceless, the vast majority in society.

 

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Comments

Comment from Fred
Time January 11, 2015 at 10:14 pm

I gather that you will be mobilising to defend Andrew bolt’s free speech then?

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 3:51 am

No. I will be mobilising to ensure all people have the same rights to free speech as Bolt.

Comment from Fred
Time January 12, 2015 at 8:03 am

So you don’t support free speech then.

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 8:29 am

Bullshit. I support free speech for the millions not just the millionaires. I loved how Bolt was on the front page of the Herald Scum complaining how his free speech had been taken away. Irony anyone?

Comment from Fred
Time January 12, 2015 at 8:42 am

If you support free speech for millions not just the millionaires then you should mobilise to defend Andrew Bolt.

He was hauled before Mordy Bromberg’s Kangaroo Court because he dared speak out on race-based welfare and its recipients.

If you support free speech then you should support Andrew Bolt.

Comment from don coyote
Time January 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

First they came for Andrew Bolt, then…..

Comment from Peter
Time January 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

Excellent post. There’ll be free speech in UK, USA, Australia, Europe… when it’s OK to post cartoons ridiculing Israel and Judaism.

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Really? Who is coming for Andrew Blot oh wise Pastor Niemöller? No one. The fascists in France (the Front National) may be the main beneficiaries of the terrorist attack. First they came for the Muslims seems to more accurately reflect what the forces of reaction in France have in mind.

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Andrew Bolt has much more free speech than you or I will ever have. A minor regulation of that expansive free speech he has to prevent him harming oppressed people in our society is legitimate. If you support a just society in which free speech for all can become a reality then you should support sacking Bolt.

Comment from Fred
Time January 12, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Andrew Bolt was hauled before the federal court for writing a newspaper article. Why can’t you acknowledge that?

You are a very unprincipled supporter of free speech.

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Unprincipled? Not at all. I don’t believe in absolute values. You do, although you apply them selectively. I am looking forward to you campaigning for example against defamation laws. That should have millions on the street. Or even campaigning for Bolt’s right to racially abuse people. Go for it. That too will have millions in the streets. Bolt has a million times more free speech than every working class person in Australia. Why don’t you campaign for their right to be heard in the Herald Sun as much as Bolt is?

Comment from John
Time January 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm

However anti-Semitism is not free speech. It is the enemy of free speech.