MUNGO MacCALLUM. Free speech, Newscorp and Mark Latham.

Apr 3, 2017

What a craven capitulation to political correctness. What a surrender to the great values of Australian democracy, the most important of which, it needs hardly be said (although it has been incessantly by the free speakers of The Australian) is free speech.  

How could any reputable media organization sack a respected – nay, revered – commentator simply for telling it how it is – or at least how a reasonable person (well, a rich, white, conservative reader of The Australian) thinks it ought to be? It is a national disgrace – almost as bad as spitting on the sacred grave of the sainted Bill Leak.

And yet it was a wholly owned subsidiary of NewsCorp, the parent body of The Australian, no less, that was performed this sacrilege. Lovable Mark Latham, the people’s friend, has been unceremoniously canned just for doing his job: for insulting, offending, humiliating and generally bad mouthing precisely the kind of people the Murdoch mob hate: the namby-pamby do gooders who just won’t tell the truth about the way Muslims, feminists, gays and generally lefties are destroying the fabric of the nation.

He and his fellow fringe dwellers, the elitist insiders of Outsiders, the inappropriately–named program which Latham, along with his luminary colleagues Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean hosts through Fox News to enlighten its select but miniscule audience were the crusaders, the sentinels keeping back the forces of darkness seeking to overwhelm those who maintain the right to be bigots, bullies and bastards.

Thus Latham was able to run through a long list of his least favourite women: Rosie Batty, Wendy Harmer, Kristina Keneally and naturally Gillian Triggs. It was a tough (if well-paid) gig, but someone had to do it. Until, incredibly, the big boss of Sky, Angelos Frangopolous, said it was all too much free speech altogether.

The breaking point was not the rampant misogyny – or perhaps, in a way, it was: a high school student who had taken part in a video about International Women’s Day was, Latham deduced, gay. Shock, horror? Well, no, actually nobody noticed – perhaps no one was watching until, a couple of weeks later, the Dirty Digger’s most assiduous muck-raker, Sharri Markson, revealed all.

But what, precisely, was Latham’s crime? He insulted, offended and humiliated with vigour and gusto, but isn’t that what the Sky News and News Corp want? Sure, he strayed very close to defamation – he sometimes got his facts wrong, but then so did Andrew Bolt, in the celebrated 18c case that started the Murdoch Press on its campaign to end the hated clause and expunge the Human Rights Commission and all its works.

Frangopolous had the company line ready: “While we support strong and robust arguments we pride ourselves in doing so in a civil and respectful manner.” Well, since when? Was he among the many millions of Australians who had not actually viewed Outsiders, or had he suddenly been converted? We shall wait for future Fox so called “current affairs” programs with interest: surely insult, offence and humiliation can hardly be called civil and respectful, or are we back in the realm of alternate facts?

And we wait with ill-concealed anticipation for the likes of Janet Albrechtsen to rush to the side of the beleaguered commentator and demand his restitution. Anything else would be worse than politically correct – it would be sniveling hypocrisy. And it will be.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery.

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