What does Chris Kenny’s $35,000 settlement and apology from the ABC over the Chaser’s dog f*cking joke mean for Australia’s culture? I don’t know, but I must admit I’m worried.
For those who haven’t caught up on this news, you can read David Marr’s summary of the situation here. There was a lot of discussion of this case on Twitter yesterday, and already Kenny was inserting himself into the conversation in an intimidating, litigious tone, requesting an apology and no doubt aiming to remind Twitter users that they better watch what they say about him, lest they get the same punishment as the Chaser team and the ABC got:
As I write this post, and discuss what Chris Kenny has said, which is all of course my opinion, something I am completely and utterly entitled to, I am nervous. This morning I’ve been warned privately by a fellow Tweep to watch what I say about Kenny on Twitter, to avoid being sued by him. The inference of course being that he has form in suing people who make jokes about him and therefore I should watch what I say. But if I decide that this Kenny/ABC defamation case has resulted in the demise of Chris Kenny’s credibility, this is my opinion and I should feel completely safe in voicing this opinion. Shouldn’t I? We live in Australia, an open and fair society so we should feel safe to make a joke or to voice an opinion without fear of a law suit. Shouldn’t we? And if we can’t do this, what has happened to our society? What has Chris Kenny, with the support of Tony Abbott, done? The ramifications are far reaching.
Of course no discussion of free speech in Australia can be complete without mentioning Andrew Bolt’s breaching of the racial discrimination act, an action that resulted in howls of protest from the right, screaming that their free speech was under threat. One example of such protest is this statement:
Many left-liberals in the love media have welcomed the decision as revenge against Bolt, rather than railing against it as an illiberal blow against free speech.
I personally strongly support laws that stop people like Bolt mis-representing the truth in order to discriminate against people of a certain race or nationality, and I am strongly opposed to the Abbott’s government’s proposed changes to Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination act. And it’s important to remember the judgement against Bolt was due to him misrepresenting facts in two articles. Simply, he said certain high-profile indigenous Australians were pretending to be indigenous to gain certain benefits when they were not pretending to be indigenous at all. So Bolt wasn’t sued over a difference of opinion, he was sued for misrepresenting facts – an important distinction.
So back to Kenny. It appears to me that Kenny decided that the Chaser’s dog f*cking joke defamed him (DISCLAIMER, I am not a legal expert). In the same way that I could quite easily decide that this Tweet from Kenny defames me in implying that I have a bad-education (which I don’t):
But it never occurred me to sue Kenny over this Tweet, nor any of the nasty responses it elicited from Kenny’s followers after this exchange, nor any of the offensive abuse I quite often receive on Twitter and on my blog. Kenny doesn’t hold back in belittling and ridiculing left-wingers on Twitter, nor does he criticise the abuse given out by his right wing mates. So the fact that Kenny was the one suing the ABC over a joke does seem to me to be infuriatingly hypocritical to say the least (can I say that without being sued?).
In fact, it would appear that the right are only worried about free-speech being impeded when it’s a right-winger’s speech being impeded. For example, you would think that a staunch defender of free-speech – Andrew Bolt – would condemn Kenny’s court case as damaging the Chaser and the ABC’s right to freedom of speech. But no. As noted in Marr’s analysis, Bolt commented in Kenny’s defence saying:
Yes, the graphic was clearly fake. But the issue is that it was obscene, humiliating and viciously abusive…
However, we don’t see such concern from Andrew Bolt or Chris Kenny about obscene, humiliating and viciously abusive images when it comes to right-wing bloggers like Larry Pickering. Pickering regularly publishes highly offensive cartoons of progressive politicians on his right-wing blog, such as one described by Bernard Keane showing Gillard as a “dildo-wielding rapist”. What would Bolt and Kenny have said if Julia Gillard had sued Larry Pickering for the same reason Kenny sued the ABC, by saying that the cartoon implies she is a dildo-wielding rapist and that this implication defames her character? How can they even reconcile their staunch defense of free-speech when it comes to Bolt’s case, but then turn around and try to silence the likes of the ABC’s Chasers from PhotoShopping images in a comedy sketch show? Of course I can only ask these questions, I can’t answer them.
It’s people like me who write a blog, and people like me and thousands of others who partake in Twitter commentary all day every day who should be worried about Kenny’s defamation precedent. And that’s the thing that makes this situation most confusing. Because Kenny is also a regular public commentator, but the difference is, he is paid to offer his opinion and I am not. Kenny is on Twitter numerous times a day and he writes a blog (DISCLAIMER: Kenny’s blog is really badly written and this of course is just my opinion) on The Australian’s website, as well as regularly appearing on Sky News – offering his opinion on a range of subjects. So what if we were all slapped with law suits every time someone felt we had publically offended them? What would this mean for Kenny’s career? Just a quick trawl through Kenny’s twitter feed revealed this tweet with a link to a video called ‘How to behave during an Islamic Massacre’. Kenny also helpfully points out that the video raises questions you’ll never hear on the ABC.
Without forcing anyone to watch this video, I can tell you people of Muslim faith might find it highly offensive. So is Kenny suggesting these offended people should sue Andrew Klavan who made the video? Or should they sue Kenny for posting it on Twitter? What if I decided to sue Kenny because I am deeply offended by his non-factual opinions and constant jokes about climate change?
The thing is, there are literally hundreds of memes, PhotoShopped images and home-made videos floating around Twitter at any given moment – what if each of these was the subject of court proceedings? What would happen to our culture if we felt scared to take part in commentary on social media – about politics, about business and economics, about sport, arts, culture, the environment, for amusement or maybe just to pass time. What if I felt scared to write open letters, such as this one I wrote to Chris Kenny? I feel Australia would be different and for this I am incredibly upset with Chris Kenny (which I assume I can’t be sued for saying?)