The greatest threat to press freedom? Today’s Oz is full of calls to reform Australia’s racial discrimination laws, over fears section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (which prohibits offending, insulting or humiliating people based on their race) would make it impossible to publish cartoons like those of Charlie Hebdo in Australia. Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has called on politicians to change the Act:

“The Charlie Hebdo attack is a wake-up call for a lot of people who rhetorically support free speech but when it comes to the nub would choose political advantage over sensible reform,” Wilson said. “This is where they have an opportunity to rise to the challenge, like the leaders of Europe are now doing, rather than being held out as hypocrites.”

But Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden has another idea to support free speech: reform defamation law. “If MPs want to do something positive for press freedom, reform our defamation laws,” he posted on Twitter this morning. “They are a greater threat, and cost more, than 18C.”

Fairfax is currently fighting a high-profile defamation case brought against it by Treasurer Joe Hockey over its “Treasurer for Sale” pieces. — Myriam Robin

More on that. Tim Wilson doesn’t like 18C because he’s a classical liberal (working from the inside to undermine the bloated human rights factory he works in). He believes Hebdo couldn’t exist in an 18C climate. Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, on the other hand, thinks that 18C wouldn’t ban Charlie Hebdo because its concern is racial, not religious vilification. Tim S isn’t completely right. Hebdo‘s mullahs and imams, amazingly, are not Indonesians or Malaysians. They are clearly caricatures of Arabs. Its orthodox rabbis, however — when shown for example arse-fucking an imam — unambiguously do fall under 18C, Jewishness being regarded as race and religion. And we haven’t even got to the blacks yet.

Charlie Hebdo isn’t some lame Bill Leak pen fart about Christine Milne, it’s hardcore. It might help to read it, before you go in to bat for it — some might find, as many French people did, that it was more bitter than sweet. It would undoubtedly be willing to feature someone like Tim Wilson and his boyfriend frolicking on wads of taxpayers’ money beneath the picture of Ronald Reagan that hangs over the conjugal bed. So Tim W is right. He’s also a blazered sycophant, shambling zombie-like into the Athenaeum Club, dead at 30, buried at 80. Gosh, I am enjoying this new climate where civility is cowardice and insult is freedom. Freedom! Next week: which tabloid columnist has his articles written for him by his colostomy bag? — Guy Rundle

Public interest in publishing player names in peptides scandal. The Herald Sun has avoided a Press Council ruling against it after it published the names of 12 Essendon AFL players who told the Australian Sports and Drug Association they might have been injected with peptides during their time with the Essendon Football Club. The players’ admission to ASADA was on a confidential basis, and the Press Council considered whether publishing their names was an unwarranted breach of their privacy. However, the Council was convinced by the Herald Sun‘s statements on the public interest in publishing their names, despite the privacy implications of it doing so:

“The Council considers that the disclosure clearly intruded on the named players’ privacy and may have caused them significant harm. Despite this impact, disclosure could be regarded as being in the public interest because of the importance of the allegations to the game of AFL, its administration and the safety of players, as well as the desirability of dispelling unjustified suspicion of other EFC players. On the other hand, disclosure could be regarded as against the public interest due to the risk of discouraging candour with ASADA and thereby hindering the investigation of this and analogous matters of considerable public concern.

“Having balanced these competing considerations, the Council is not satisfied there was a clear breach of its Standards of Practice in this instance. In doing so, it is influenced partly by the late stage of the protracted investigative process at which the disclosure was made.”

The Herald Sun had argued that publishing the names of the 12 players “cleared the air” for the club’s other 26 players, who were until that point also under suspicion. It also said there was public interest in doing so, given the public’s right to know about matters that affect a sport they are heavily invested in. — Myriam Robin

Sharing the spoils. The nearly $150 million valuation Fairfax put on Metro Media Publishing when it acquired the remaining half of it yesterday has some staff at the suburban Melbourne newspaper group shaking their heads. Editorial staff have been on a one-year enterprise bargaining agreement (finishing in June) to account for the expected changes to the business, and many had been under the impression the company hadn’t been doing as well as the high valuation would suggest.

At the staff briefing yesterday, some queried whether they could expect to see the financial worth of the company in some way reflected in their EBA negotiations. “They’ve been crying poor for six months,” someone close to the EBA negotiations told Crikey. “So it’ll be interesting to take this to the new agreement.”

At this stage, it doesn’t appear that there is any plan to migrate MMP’s editorial staff onto the current, and more generous, agreement Fairfax provides staff employed at its major publications. This wouldn’t be uncommon among major media organisations. For example, despite News having bought Australian Independent Business Media (AIBM publishes Eureka Report, Business Spectator and other publications) two years ago, staff there have not been migrated onto the broader News Corp EBA. — Myriam Robin

Front page of the day. All is forgiven …

And yes, that is Prophet Mohammed on the front. As the mag’s lawyer Richard Malka told France Info radio: “We will not give in … The spirit of ‘I am Charlie’ means the right to blaspheme.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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