The absurdity of Brendan O’Neill’s poor-me whinge about being oppressed on Q&A (““No job is lonelier than defending freedom of speech in Q&A land”) can be summed up by his response to criticism of News Corporation’s excessive power and influence over government:

And no, we should not invite the state to dismantle Rupert’s regime.

Instead, if you really don’t like what his papers have to say, you should set up your own post-Murdochian, pot-stirring paper. That’s one of the great things about press freedom: anyone with the nous and the know-how and a fundraising sidekick can press their own ideas and offer them up for public consumption.

Yes – if you don’t like Murdoch domination of the media in Australia, then inherit your OWN newspaper from your father. If Rupert could do it, then why can’t you?


Thanks, dad.

Meanwhile, on that argument we and many others have been having, in the light of the Oslo massacre, on the subject of just what, if anything, should be done about those who spread the hysteria and hatred that the killer claimed justified his actions? Well, O’Neill has a line – that he also put on Monday night on Q&A – that he thinks deflects that criticism neatly: that those arguing for restraint from the polemicists have no faith in the ability of ordinary people to think for themselves and not, even if asked to, commit acts of mass violence:

That is the implication of Plibersek and Mayne’s discomfort with provocative discourse: that the little people’s minds are so putty-like that one shrill comment from an un-PC loudmouth might be enough to push them over the edge towards murder.

No, Brendan, that is not the implication at all. The clear implication is that any responsible broadcaster or journalist should be aware that there are crazy people out there, people who could be inspired into going over the edge if they were to be convinced, for example, that their very lives, that everything important to them, were really about to be taken over and destroyed by some other group. People naive enough to believe that newspapers wouldn’t print total lies, and to be open to be persuaded – particularly if the provocation were relentless enough and hysterical enough – that there really was A Grave Threat that required A Drastic Response.

Words don’t cause violence – but they can unleash it.

Ordinary people of course aren’t going to heed Alan Jones’ light-hearted suggestion that it would be amusing if they were to put the Prime Minister in a chaff bag and throw her out to sea, presumably to drown. Or the suggestion by a supporter published by the Liberal Party last month that it’d be great if someone would “murder” someone in the Greens or Labor. But what we’ve surely learned by now is that an atrocity doesn’t need very many participants at all. You don’t need a majority of Alan Jones’ audience to take him seriously – just one or two, sufficiently equipped and motivated and unhinged.

Hence the call for limits on professional media outlets publishing utterly deranged paranoia designed to create anger and fear. They would need to protect the very real need for press freedom so that the powerful are held to account – hell, it’s something we need to see a much more of; there are many of the genuinely powerful in our country who get away with very little coverage at all – but that doesn’t mean there should be no limits at all.

There’s “scrutiny” of those in power – which is vital, and important – and there’s inciting panic that spills over into violence.

And they’re a lot less similar than certain people appear to think they are.