Latham, free speech and responsibility

Sky News (Australia) has sacked former Labor leader, Mark Latham for attacking a student’s perceived sexuality when responding to speeches made on International Women’s Day.

Latham has been well – known for being politically incorrect since joining Sky, both as a guest on “The Bolt Report” and his regular show “Jones and Co”, with 2GB host Alan Jones. The latest jibe, however proved to be too far. While colleagues like Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray were sad to see him go, Bolt criticised Latham for his comments toward the student.

 

Free speech

The news of the sacking has sparked fierce criticism on social media, with some threatening to cancel their Foxtel subscriptions and boycott Sky News.

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Sky recieving backlash on Facebook over Latham’s sacking

 

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More backlash

 

Of course, free speech is also a hot topic when it comes to changing 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which has been defeated in the Senate. When it came to 18C, for a long time I was torn. I understood why a number of people, including some Jews, worried. However, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) case made me change my mind. It was unfortunate that three young people had their lives and careers turned upside down because of a number of Facebook posts. The plaintiff, Cindy Prior wasn’t a winner either. She went bankrupt. I believe a law that was meant to protect people shouldn’t result in lives being thrown into turmoil.

 

Now, on the attacks toward Sky News. I think they did a reasonable thing. If they held on to Latham and he said outrageous things again and again, then it would’ve had looked bad on the media outlet. As others have said before, this is NOT a free speech issue. Latham WASN’T legally sanctioned for what he said. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or being held to account when you go too far. This is what so many people don’t get. If you attack someone (verbally or on – line), then you should be called out.

Also, Sky has every right to decide on policies and codes of conduct that employees should abide by. I’m guessing that, while debate is encouraged and expected, discriminatory or rude behaviour and speech based on someone’s sexuality, race, etc isn’t. Most workplaces do demand that all staff members respect their colleagues and members of the public they associate with, and, in this case, write and talk about. It’s their right. Freedom of speech DOES NOT MEAN FREEDOM FROM CONSEQUENCES!

 

Another thing too – if a law like 18C was to be scrapped, I believe that it would put the onus on the public and the media to not tolerate discriminatory or bullying behaviour or language. This means that it should be called out – always. And people do. For instance, I’ve been particularly impressed with Andrew Bolt this year and how he has rebuked people, like cartoonist Larry Pickering, publicly for making inappropriate remarks against gays and Muslims at the Q Society fundraiser. (According to the Gold Coast Bulletin, Pickering expressed regret on his anti – gay slur, but is standing by his antib- Muslim comments). Bolt has also criticised his colleague and former Coalition member, Ross Cameron for his distasteful ‘joke’ that night. (Cameron did apologise for his comments).

 

I think what Sky News did to Latham was fair. This was NOT an attack on his free speech. It was Sky taking an ethical and professional stand on what they will and won’t tolerate. To be honest, even the Left could take a leaf out of their book – stand for ethics always. Don’t let tribalism stand in tge way for doing what you know in your heart is right.

 

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