The Left shouldn’t celebrate legal victory against Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt

As I wrote last week, it makes me extremely uncomfortable that the law can tell us, as writers, journalists or citizens, what may be offensive. Should we not have the right to offend and be offended?

It’s a point well raised by Dr Tad on the essential Left Flank site today:

Andrew Bolt is just one reason there is so little trust in the mainstream media in Australia today. But the media is but one of a series of social institutions that has come under increased questioning in recent times. The political class has suffered just as seriously, constantly searching for ways to regain authority lost as its social base has deserted it. The collapse has been most spectacular for the official Left, but such problems bubble beneath the surface for the Right also.
This verdict unfortunately creates a space for the Right to (falsely) claim it is against the unwarranted incursion of state power into people’s lives while simultaneously backing much more destructive state action against Indigenous people. As the global crisis deepens, states will become increasingly assertive in their use of coercive measures to enforce the interests of the ruling elites. When they come after their opponents they will use all the powers they have at their disposal, including those that carry a “progressive” gloss.
Rather than focusing on legislation and judicial recourse, the Left needs to start thinking about how we create facts on the ground that will delegitimize and sideline the likes of Bolt. How can we change the editorial policies of the major media outlets from below, to force social change and accompanying shifts in the terms of debate? Such pressure must come not just from outside the media, but be part of the struggle of media workers against their employers. For too long, too many dedicated, honest journalists — those who want to speak truth to power —… have been hamstrung by their bosses’ editorial and business prerogatives. Change can only be won through self-activity, by forcing governments and media organisations to cede their control —… a struggle most vividly seen in Egypt today.
These are policies that must be enacted by people themselves, as real democracy demands ordinary people putting their minds and bodies on the line. We should not kid ourselves that laws that gives the courts power to suppress journalism, arbitrate as to what acceptable “facts” are, and use abstract legal notions of racism to silence dissent won’t be potential facets of the elite backlash to such struggles.
I even agree with the Murdoch editor David Pemberthy who argues today that the laws that hammered Bolt could be used for other purposes, something I raised with colleagues last week:
What is there to stop a group of Jewish Australians from suing the Greens for their boycott of Israel and arguing that the boycott is anti-Semitic?
My guess is that such a move against those backing BDS against apartheid Israel will be coming soon, and those on the Left cheering the verdict against the odious Bolt will have egg on their faces.
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