Biting Back: Martin Hirst Responds

Biting Back: Clarifications, Corrections and Rights of Reply

Journalism academic Martin Hirst has emailed me to dispute a couple of points in Giving The Devil His Due. Specifically, regarding his leaving Deakin university and the characterisation of his support (or not) for Finkelstein and media regulation.

Dr Hirst’s responses are detailed below.

Here at A Devil’s Curmudgeon I believe most strongly in a robust marketplace of ideas. I’m also under no delusions as to my own fallibility, no matter how diligently I try to research my pieces. So when people, particularly those who’ve been the subject of something I’ve written, respond to tell me I’ve got something wrong, or just plain disagree with me, I’m more than happy to give them space.

Firstly, he was not sacked by Deakin, Dr Hirst says, but resigned; secondly, he did not “loudly cheer” Finkelstein, and does not support more government regulations. He also stresses that he has always “noted the consequences of ‘free’ speech for myself and for others”.

Leaving Deakin

I used the word “sacked” simply because that’s what I saw used repeatedly on Hirst’s own blog posts, and on news articles and sympathetic blog posts he’d linked to without contrary comment. As I’m sure you’ll agree, my confusion was understandable.
Hirst writes:

I have to be careful what I say for legal reasons … With reference to Deakin, yes, they wanted to sack me, they had two goes at it (2014, 2016). Both were political witch hunts.

Twice I defended myself on free speech grounds, which Deakin rejected – not because my argument was unsound, but because they had an agenda and ignored my defence …

Both times were in direct response to alleged complaints (I say alleged because Deakin refused to give me copies of them) and in response to a campaign of intimidation, trolling and bullying by well-paid right wing columnists in the Murdoch press.

All of that is on the record. I can’t say any more because of the terms of the Separation Agreement that Deakin insisted I sign upon my resignation.

I refer to sacking in blog posts because it is no secret that Deakin resolved to sack me after receiving and ignoring the argument I mounted in my defence.

I have made these documents available to members of the press, ask and Ye shall receive

I was not sacked, I resigned.

If you want to explore that any further, I suggest you put in an FOI to Deakin seeking the relevant documents.

Finkelstein

Firstly, contra Hirst’s assertion, I have not taken on the Murdoch press’ view of his representation of Finkelstein and its recommendations: I don’t recall reading anything specific about Hirst’s representations to Finkelstein in anything except his own publications for The Conversation. Still, I understand his sensitivity to being bullied by powerful figures.

As to how I characterised his representations of Finkelstein; firstly, of course, this is opinion writing, not hard news reporting: a certain degree of rhetorical hyperbole is not untoward. Indeed, Dr Hirst’s trademark is often-colourful writing, and fair enough.

With regard to disappointment in Finkelstein’s recommendations, Hirst called them “appalling and ridiculously weak”. As he writes below, this was in response to “the ALP back[ing] down in face of barrage of hostile reaction”.

As for “cheered loudly”: as I say, it’s a rhetorical hyperbole, and one that I assumed most readers would take with a grain of salt. Be that as it may, reading Hirst’s pieces on Finkelstein for The Conversation, I was left with the impression of overall support. What I did miss, though, was this blog entry. It’s mostly taken up with his dispute with the Murdoch press over how his representations to Finkelstein were reported, but it does contain snippets of those actual representations – which suggest that the matter was far more complicated than whole-hearted support, and that it was a mistake to infer, from that, support for a government-appointed media regulator. As Hirst points out, he has elsewhere made clear that he does not support government regulation.

So, yes, I’ll happily concede that “loudly cheered” was the wrong phrase to use, here, as was the suggestion that Hirst supported the recommendation for a government-appointed media regulator.

Hirst writes:

“I don’t think I was disappointed in decision not to proceed, certainly not in those terms,

But if you have direct quote to that affect, happy to acknowledge

My position was, and I’m paraphrasing, because I haven’t read the conversation or blog pieces recently:

The ALP backed down in face of barrage of hostile reaction from Murdoch press, that’s an analytical point, not support for the recommendations, IMHO it made them seem weak and gutless.

I am totally opposed to greater government control of media – probably for same objective reasons as most libertarians of your bent, but from a different analytical, philosophical And political viewpoint.

I argue (and have for 40 years) that the interests of the working class are not served by more regulation by bourgeois governments who rule in the class interests of Capital – this includes Labor and Social Democrat regimes.

My position, argued in several published works and in my PhD, is for class conscious trade unionism among journalists and workers’ control of the means of information production.

I’m not an idealist, I’m a realist / materialist (Marxist) I understand we’re a long way from that, but making the argument is important.

I cannot find the transcript of my cross-examination by Finkelstein, it appears to have been archived in some convenient and difficult to access memory hole by dept of Comms

But extracts are included in my blogpost “Thanks for coming, now piss off back to Whereverstan

And possibly others too.

As I wrote there, the Murdoch press totally misrepresented my evidence and continue to do so. You have taken on their ‘factualised’ version, not the truth, which you should always investigate for yourself.

I have also blogged about factualisation, you can look it up.”

Free Speech

Here, obviously, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

We both acknowledge that the law was applied correctly, in the Bolt case, but from there our views diverge. Where I stand by Mill’s harm principle that allows only direct threat of physical harm to curtail free speech, Hirst widens the umbrella of harm to include racist speech and “hate speech”. We both agree that racism has no place in modern Australia; where we disagree is where the state should step in to curtail its citizens’ speech.

Hirst writes:

“In relation to 18C and D, it is the law, it was correctly applied in the Bolt case.

Do I think it should be the only solution? No.

Do I think it should be repealed? No.

Does it hinder free speech? No

Why?

Racist speech is harmful, it is a form of hate speech. White Australia is a racist place for Indigenous people and increasingly for people from Arabic backgrounds and Muslims from anywhere.

Racist fuckwits who hide behind the stupid claim that Islam is a religion and hence they are not racist if they use hate speech against Muslims are …

Well, I said it before “racist fuckwits”. Do they deserve protection from 18C?

No they don’t, racism and hate speech have no place in modern Australia and the law is not there to shut down their freedom of speech, it is to protect their fellow citizens from being subject to,their racist abuse.

In other words, 18C protects them from the harmful effects of the shit that comes out of the mouths of racist fuckwits.

Racist fuckwits should learn from this and see 18C as an educational tool.

18D protects genuine expression, it is not a licence or excuse for racist fuckwittery.”

Final Clarification

One final point, and this was something I should obviously have made clearer in the original article: in his emails, Dr Hirst made reference to the consequences of his free speech. Well, my whole point was that there shouldn’t have been any – and the right, as much as the left, should have defended that.

Free speech, as far as I’m concerned, is an issue that should cross tribal lines. My whole point was that the right, who howled when the left failed to defend the free speech of Andrew Bolt, should be ashamed of themselves for not defending the free speech of Martin Hirst. Snickering into their merlots because some cartoon villain for their “side” got taken down was not good enough. Free speech is for everyone, or no-one.

As Chomsky says, if you don’t believe in freedom of expression for people you despise, you don’t believe in it at all.

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4 thoughts on “Biting Back: Martin Hirst Responds

  1. Pingback: Giving The Devil His Due: Andrew Bolt, Martin Hirst and Free Speech – A Devil's Curmudgeon

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  3. Pingback: The continuing education of a young badger: Speech has consequences | Ethical Martini

  4. Pingback: Dear Grace, I’m bending over for you | Ethical Martini

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