The proposed amendment to remove any reference to the term “offence” from Section 39 of the Broadcasting Act could only be a good thing for free speech, says Rob Buchanan.
The continued use of such a vague and subjective term creates an open door policy that’s subject to misuse. It creates a chilling effect on free speech by making even the average Joe Soap fearful of giving his opinion about someone in case it results in litigation.
And those someone’s, who are frequently offended, are the very people who need to be challenged. The recent Pantigate incident has shown both how vulnerable the law is to abuse and how it compromised our state broadcaster, effectively making it a cash machine for those willing to suggest suing.
The crediblity of journalism in this country needs to be restored. Forget for a second about the fact that it allowed Rory O’Neill to get in to trouble for making reasoned argument, it also prevents people from holding alternative points of view. Discourse in a democracy requires a balance be struck between people’s ability to question other’s opinions and their ability to listen to opinions they disagree with. Healthy societies need to have free and open debate in order to grow.
As the saying goes: “Just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re right.” The problem with offence clauses is that they are biased heavily in favour of the most conservative element of any debate. If conservatives are so confident in their arguments, they should have no issue in a debating them with other grown ups, without resorting to litigation because they have been “offended”. If they truly believe they are on the side of right, what have they to fear?
If the Broadcasting Act was amended, those who cherish free speech and open debate would benefit. whether they’re religious, conservative or liberal, hetero or homosexual.
As Donnelly said, the current legislation, already has made broadcasters “err on the side of caution”. This not only encourages litigious elements to circle like vultures but it puts a dangerously stifling element on the very real need for debate around the issues of homosexual equality in this country, in the lead up to the marriage referendum.
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