I”m with boxer Anthony “”Choc”” Mundine – in his most recent battle, at least. Last Thursday, during a media conference to publicise his forthcoming International Boxing Federation world middleweight contest with Tasmanian Daniel Geale, Mundine questioned his opponent”s Aboriginal identity.
Mundine said he “”thought they wiped all the Aborigines from Tasmania out”” and added Geale had “”a white wife and white kids””. He later apologised for both statements. However, he did not resile from his comments about identity and declared yesterday: “”There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather. That, I think, is wrong.””
Mundine”s recent comments about Aboriginality have been denounced by journalists and others, most notably by the Tasmanian indigenous activist Michael Mansell. He linked Mundine”s attitude with that of the Ku Klux Klan and claimed his position resembled a “”neo-Nazi type of thought””. According to Mansell, Mundine is in need of re-education since his comments were “”worse than what Andrew Bolt said”” last year.
Mansell is an extremist, as is obvious from his statement that Mundine is not welcome in Tasmania until he issues a grovelling apology. Yet Mansell”s position reflects a pattern in left-wing thought in recent years to call for the silencing of opponents from both the right-of-centre (like Bolt) or even the left-of-centre (like Mundine).
In his rush to censor Mundine, Mansell seems to have forgotten that, in the past, he himself has raised the issue of Aboriginal identity. On August 26, 2002, Four Corners ran a program titled “”Blackfella, Whitefella”” concerning disputes in Tasmania as to who was indigenous. Mansell told the reporter Quentin McDermott anyone who wanted “”to participate in elections that are set up for Aboriginal people … should be able to satisfy the criteria that they are, in fact, Aborigines””.
That was a decade ago. Now Mansell says calls for individuals to meet certain criteria before claiming to be indigenous is profoundly racist. What”s changed? Well, it”s possible that the likes of Mansell have taken comfort from Federal Court Judge Mordy Bromberg”s decision in the 2011 case of Eatock v Bolt concerning what were called “”fair-skinned Aboriginal people””.
Bromberg found Bolt had made a number of factual errors in his comments on the “”fair-skinned Aboriginal people”” whom he had offended. But the judge went further by criticising the “”tone”” of Bolt”s columns in the Herald-Sun, which had included “”mockery and inflammatory language”” and threatened “”social harmony””. Yet Bolt”s comments last year were not more threatening to social harmony than Mundine”s outburst last week.
Moreover, there is an issue of social policy involved. Professor Henry Reynolds stated it when interviewed by Four Corners in 2002. He argued that when “”identity becomes the basis for a claim on the rest of us – that is, on the state or on the taxpayer – we all have to be concerned””.
Last week, after upholding complaints against the broadcaster Alan Jones, the Australian Communications and Media Authority entered into an agreement with 2GB. As a result, Jones will be subjected to a form of re-education. He will be trained on “”factual accuracy”” and broadcasting “”other significant viewpoints””.
It”s true 2GB has not one left-of-centre presenter for any of its key programs. But it”s also true the ABC has not one conservative presenter or producer or editor for any of its prominent outlets. What”s more, senior ABC management refuses to correct errors in documentaries broadcast on the ABC – as I have documented on my Media Watch Dog blog. Yet there is no call for the ABC to be re-educated with respect to fact-checking or to present other significant viewpoints.
It”s surprising just how many academics and journalists are seemingly indifferent to demands to limit free expression. On October 12, Lateline ran a debate between Rod Tiffen (who was a paid consultant on the media inquiry of Ray Finkelstein, QC) and Campbell Reid (from News Limited).
The presenter Emma Alberici agreed with Tiffen that there was no big deal in the fact the ultimate sanction recommended by Finkelstein was jailing journalists – since editors could simply do as they were told by the proposed news media council. So, that”s all right then, apparently.
Despite the fact there would be no right of appeal against a decision of the NMC and despite the fact the NMC would be chosen by senior academics who have historically been deficient themselves in overseeing plurality in the social science departments of universities which, like the ABC, resemble conservative-free zones.
Sure, Mundine may have offended some last week. But he did strike a blow for free speech in a society in which there is a growing demand to censor unfashionable opinion.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.