ABC’s Conversations podcast is re-publishing a series that comedian Sami Shah has produced about free speech. I listened to the first three episodes today, and the first thing that hit me was how articulate Sami is on these hard topics.
His first episode explored free speech in depth. Then the second episode puts this into better context, exploring ‘political correctness’, and ‘call out culture’.
Being an estate planning specialist, I often tell my clients that they have complete testamentary freedom in Australia – they can put whatever they like in their Will. But there are overriding laws that confirm what a valid clause is, and what isn’t. And there are laws that put obligations on us to provide for people in our lives to whom we have a moral obligation – if we don’t, they could make a claim on our Will.
The way Sami explained free speech was similar – we can say whatever we like in Australia. We won’t lose our lives or get gaoled. But the law places some restrictions, in terms of libel, slander and defamation laws.
The problem that I can see with bringing libel or defamation proceedings is access to justice, which is always a problem for minorities. But in the case of a claim against an estate, access to justice is made easier in that costs are often covered by the estate, so it is easier for a plaintiff to find someone to represent them.
Even when there’s an element of discrimination, such as Sami discussed in his third episode – where minorities have to be even more careful about what they say because of the scale of the potential backlash – our laws are not robust enough to make plaintiff’s case attractive.
The analysis of the term ‘political correctness’ and how it is used incorrectly was very smart. Originally, the term meant that someone was sticking to the political line of the times – whether in Russia or Nazi Germany. Then the term morphed into a criticism of someone who didn’t have a sense of humour or was too ‘straight’. But the term has morphed again, such that the way it is used now doesn’t even make sense!
Now, the term seems to be used as a weapon to shut down someone who is offended. It is a label that makes someone look unreasonable or ‘like they’ve gone mad’. Sami’s advice here is gold: Insert ‘it’s being respectful to others gone mad’ instead of saying ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’. This makes you pause to think that despite whatever hurtful names have been thrown around, it was because they were offended and why.