Another day, another tedious editorial in The Australian lamenting the sad decline of larrikinism, jokes and, by extension, Western civilisation itself. Even by the Oz’s standards, however, this one was particularly extreme. It claimed that nobody dares make jokes anymore out of fear of being “shamed by the Twitter diversity Gestapo or neo arbiters of fun such as the furious [Hannah] Gadsby or identity poster child Benjamin Law”.

Perhaps one reason why people might fear trying to be funny or expressing unorthodox viewpoints is because doing so might make them the target of unsavoury coverage in The Australian. Identity poster child” Benjamin Law discovered this for himself during the same-sex marriage postal survey campaign in 2017, when he made a joke on Twitter about how he would “hate-fuck all the anti-gay MPs”. In response, The Australian huffed and puffed about how Law’s naughty sweary words were a sign of the “gross hypocrisy” of the Yes case.

The paper also couldn’t take a joke when columnist Chris Kenny was photoshopped having sex with a dog during a Chaser election special on the ABC. Kenny brought defamation proceedings against Auntie, and the Oz jumped to his defence, arguing the skit “[took] satire too far”. 

Provocative speech should be celebrated, but only if it doesn’t offend the paper’s own fragile conservative sensibilities. Writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied dared criticise offshore processing on Anzac Day, and became the subject of some 12,000 words worth of articles scrutinising her every move. Abdel-Magied has since left the country. Former editor Chris Mitchell wanted Media Watch host Paul Barry axed for being mean to the Murdochs. And earlier this year, Honi Soit, the University of Sydney’s esteemed student rag, published a satirical cartoon with George Pell in a noose; the Oz was quick to jump on board and fuel the resulting indignation

Despite the common refrain about weak millennials shutting down controversial ideas, clearly nobody likes to cancel like the Oz. And given the paper provides a home for everything from climate change denial to soft-core white nationalism, it’s unclear what the “diversity Gestapo” ever stopped them from saying in the first place.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey