The Australian has octupled down on ZakyMallahgate today, focusing on the ABC’s new position — that if the broadcaster had known of Mallah’s nasty tweet about gang-banging Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi, it wouldn’t have got him on the show. The Oz — embarrassed by the revelation that it had given Mallah full publicity as a reformed jihadi — couldn’t go on the line that Mallah shouldn’t have been heard from per se, so it continues to obsess over his actual presence in a TV studio, as if he might have spontaneously combusted. It’s a pathetic fear-based line, running interference for a desperate government.

At the bottom of the page, James Allan has a go at addressing Mark Scott’s defence of pluralism and the “marketplace of ideas”. After the usual riff, good ideas drive out bad, only threats of imminent violence should be excluded, etc, Allan notes:

“… nowhere did Mill or any other proponents of free speech say individuals or companies or taxpayer-funded broadcasters had to seek out despicable views, send cabs to pick up their proponents, coach them with four or five producers …”

Well, let’s fillet this a little. First, my god, the transport issue again. Drink! The ABC picked up Mallah in a shuttle bus. Is Allan proposing that only audience questioners with an approved line be picked up? That the bus should zip past the others? (Allan can’t even get that right, suggesting it was a cab.) Four or five producers is an exaggeration — Mallah was simply prepped so that the show would run smoothly .

The crucial question is the one of “despicable views”. Like others on the right, Allan asserts the Millsian liberal position that the contest of ideas should be absolute — but then adds a pre-judgement, that some ideas are despicable. Who decides? And how was Mallah’s question — as to whether Australian foreign policy was driving young men to jihad — in any way despicable, when it’s been a finding of UK and other inquiries into Islamist radicalisation?

What Allan means is that Mallah himself is despicable, and should be “unpersonned”, excluded from debate for what he has said previously and repudiated. And that runs directly contrary to liberalism, which is precisely opposed to putting conditions on citizenship and participation. Either Allan doesn’t understand John Stuart Mill, or he’s playing fast and loose to evolve an anti-ABC position.

As regards the ABC, Allan is dead wrong. A public broadcaster in a pluralist society should be as pluralist as the society itself, not circumscribed by the imposed “rationality” limits of the state. That doesn’t mean that white supremacists or Islamists should get an airing each week, but it does mean they should get an airing occasionally — and positions to the left of the Greens should get an airing far more than they do. To pre-label some ideas “despicable” and then exclude them is simply to promote the virus model of speech — that some ideas are so “dangerous” that they will have some sort of occult effect on the listener. Are the right so scared of the battle of ideas because their own ideas are so tangled, confused and ill-thought through?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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