Friday, March 17, 2006

It's "Sense of Humor", not "Censoring Humor"

In Australia the government has shut down a satirical website that featured a faux-apology speech for the Iraq war, delivered by Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

And at the University Illinois the editor of the student newspaper has been fired for his decision to print the now infamous caricatures of Muhammed.

It's always good to be reminded that the freedom of speech* is alive and well worldwide.

* Many restrictions apply. Offer not good in Iran, China, or anywhere political leaders are struggling in the polls. Freedom not available to government employees, their family members, or anyone who has something critical to say. Your government reserves the right to modify the terms of this freedom at any time without notification.


Blogger Potentilla said...

Do yuo think freedom of speech is an absolute? If not, what sort of restrictions should there be?

Tue Mar 21, 06:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tim Kanwar said...

No, I don't think that freedom of speech is an absolute.

There are classes of speech that are not protected: for example speech that is directly injurious (the classic example of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre) or speech that is intentionally hateful and designed only to incite (so called "fighting words"), as well as other examples.

There are also contexts in which speech is not free: for instance your right to speek freely does not trump my right to kick you out of my private residence.

Like any right, be it constitutional or moral, the right to speak freely is not a categorical imperative. There are lines that must be drawn. and that is surely a difficult exercise. That said, however, neither of the two examples cited above fall all that close to the line, in my opinion.

Satirizing a political leader and reprinting a controversial (and decidedly newsworthy) cartoon are not borderline free speech cases, and the repression exercised in those situations is harmful to us all.

Wed Mar 22, 10:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Potentilla said...

I agree with your general views but I'm less sure about the two examples. Only less sure, not disagreeing; it would depend on the facts.

On the Oz example, I might actually do a bit more research. I used to live in in Sydney, and I would say that the SMH is not really renowned for the quality of its reporting, so maybe that's what made me have questions.

On the Jyllands Posten cartoons, I am fairly sure (after a LOT of reading) that the original publication of the cartoons was not done for pure freedom-of-speech reasons, but rather for mixed, circulation-boosting, controvery-stirring reasons. In fact, I think it had a lot in common with shouting FIRE in a crowded theatre. The (undoubtedly true) fact that a number of Muslim extremists have picked up the original publication and distorted it, sometimes grossly, for their own political ends, does not mean that the original publication was blameless.

It seems to me that a number of editors have jumped on the bandwagon and republished some or all of the cartoons (which btw were never meant to be funny, re your post title) as an edgy controversial stance, not because they felt strongly about the issue and without considering the fire-in-the-theatre argument (which is quite serious - the cartoons were all over the internet once the controversy blew up, so the point of republishing them so that people could make their own minds up is on somewhat dodgy ground). The CNN report quoted by the link you reference says that the board of the paper concerned say that the editor was sacked not for republishing the cartoons but for deciding to do so without proper consultation. If that's true, I would have sacked him too. Is it true? Don't know. CNN say he says not - but then, he would, wouldn't he. For me the jury is out unless and until I do further research.

You may rue the day you ever told me you were interested in debate on current issues.

Thu Mar 23, 12:32:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tim Kanwar said...

I don't see why I'd regret your involvement in the blog. After all, the whole point of this project is to stimulate dialogue, not to talk to myself.

I appreciate your skepticism about news sources. Let me be clear up front: I am not a "reputable news source." I do no original reporting of the news; I only offer opinions on the news (and plenty of other things) as I find it online and in print.

I evaluate what I read for credibility based on my experience with the source, the manner in which I came across it, and other background information available to me at the time. If any "news" item I've posted or referred to turns out to be false, I'd very much like to know about it.

Now, with respect to the SMH article discussing the Howard satire piece, I also found similar articles posted in the Inquirer, the Register, and on Slashdot. That's hardly conclusive, but it's better than nothing. If you've found something to suggest that the story is inaccurate, do let me know.

Now, as to the cartoons I think you make a fair point. I posted something about which a) I didn't know very much about and b) which was, as you rightly point out, unverified. And I shouldn't have.

I have followed the cartoon controversy only tangentially and, though I think that the analogy to shouting "Fire!" in a theatre is inapposite, I admit that there could well have been an editorial policy that legitimized the firing.

Please let me know if/when you find out more information but, for the time being, I adopt your conclusion: the jury has gone back into deliberations on this one.

Thanks for the feedback.


Thu Mar 23, 02:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger Potentilla said...

I wasn't doubting the basic truth of the Oz story - I just wondered about the background. I shuffled around a few Aussie sites and found that "veteran satirist" translates to some extent to "oh no not that dingo again" where dingo = much more Anglo-Saxon term. Not an excuse for Melbourne IT or Howard, but kind of interesting background. Quiet an interesting discussion here

(PS if you follow the links - I'm not the same person as photostream, but I am married to him)

Fri Mar 24, 06:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tim Kanwar said...

I've gathered that from checking out your various blogs. As an aside, I like the very simple look and feel of your site: what platform do you use?

Sat Mar 25, 11:02:00 AM EST  
Anonymous photostream said... is a mixture of blogs maintained through blogger (I just messed with one of the templates until I got something I liked) and stuff written in an html generator called Freeway. The style of the page indexing was pinched from Apple and this accounts for much of the overall look and feel.

If you literally mean 'what platform', everything is written on a Mac and the server is Linux running some flavour of Apache.

Blogger unreliability means I'm considering moving the blogs to a MySQL always, a website is a work in progress.

Sat Mar 25, 04:50:00 PM EST  

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