BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
I love a good conspiracy theory. The intricacies of the plot, the machinations of the baddies, the triumph of right, truth and justice brought about by a highly principled if somewhat naïve hero/heroine can nurture my interior life for hours, even days.
So I was as agog as almost every other mortal on the planet with the initial revelations of WikiLeaks.
Was this the end of our world as we knew it? Would the Leaks reveal a political world so corrupt that the whole of Western Civilization (aka the USA) would be brought tumbling down? Had the Internet become the new Barricade of Revolution?
In the event it wasn’t very long before I became terminally bored with the whole thing. At best it was a pale imitation of a Le Carré novel (a comparison that has popped up elsewhere). At worst, a tired, predictable regurgitation of old news and innate knowledge.
When it is made into a film, it won’t hold a candle to Flight of the Condor or All the President’s Men or even The Pelican Brief. How could it? It has all been done before.
So it was with growing incredulity that I followed the hyperbolic, not to mention hysterical, newspaper reporting and media headlines referring to the ‘secret’ diplomatic cables.
As if this was not enough, otherwise sober and measured politicians took up the cudgels against WikiLeaks and its director Julian Assange, in an attempt to discredit both, leading to a new and even more hysterical outpouring of outrage from their supporters.
In no time at all the world has become mired in a debate not just about transparency in government, the diplomatic community, the power of the Internet, legal conspiracies, et al but the big daddy of them all – free speech.
Freedom of speech has come to represent the very zenith of human rights. It encapsulates personal freedom, media freedom and political democracy in one package. It is the hallmark of a liberated and just society. In societies that are less just and less liberated, people go to prison for airing their opinions.
But there is a misapprehension about just what constitutes free speech. Does it mean that we can shout our mouths off about everything and anything that comes to mind? Does ‘free speech’ mean we are entitled to be abusive in our dealings with others?
Does the precept give the media the right to print/broadcast mischievous reports about citizens/politicians which skirt the laws of slander and libel? Does upholding ‘free speech’ as an unalienable right of the individual mean that using discretionary censorship to protect the greater good of the community/society is null and void?
Without the application of some sort of hierarchy of values – what is the moral/ethical imperative here? – ‘free speech’ can become as tyrannical as its suppression.
In Australia, we revel in the belief that citizens can say what they think without fear or favour. But this cherished belief is under siege. There is an insidious intolerance of any dissent from what is considered ‘politically correct’ behaviour.
The ongoing campaign against displaying the Nativity scene in non-religious environments is perhaps an example of this intolerance. Christmas is after all a Christian feast (not just a secular holiday).
We should be allowed to shout from the rooftops ‘Come let us adore Him’ without being accused of non-pc behaviour. Or would that be considered an unacceptable leak of the Good News?
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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