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The freedom to be a hypocrite

Freedom of speech Mass media Australia

The free speech debate has been marked by selectivity and score-settling

Acres of ink and gigaloads of bytes have been spilled in recent times over “free speech.” Sadly, the debate has mostly been self-serving. Much of it has been driven by right-wing voices opposed both to vilification laws and to a now-defunct proposal to strengthen the press complaints system. Left-wing voices, while less prominent, have focused on gags on public servants and moves to stop grant funds being used to advocate for policy reform.

Balancing liberty of expression with civility and equality is not simple. True conservatives emphasise the need for respectful debate and defend the concern for reputations embodied in defamation laws. Progressives fret about power, and the need for marginalised voices to have an equal share of the stage. Small “l” liberals want to leave things to the marketplace and see the internet as a liberating agent. These are all principled positions. Freed of posturing, most people would agree we need to find some balance among them…

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Photo: Detail of painting from the workshop of Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746)/Wikimedia

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