Saturday, May 2, 2015

Too many tweets make a twat: ANZAC version

SBS sports reporter Scott Mcintyre let loose with a series of anti-ANZAC tweets and then was promptly sacked by SBS for breaching their code of conduct. It is helpful to be clear about the issues involved.

(1) This is not a free speech issue. Scott Mcintyre is not being prosecuted for his tweets, and it would be outrageous if he was.

(2) No one has a right to publicly breach the code of conduct of one's employer. "Right" here understood as "able to act without penalty". Australian law is fairly clear on this.

(3) Tone and context matters. The issue is not the facts of Gallipoli or other relevant history (though his cause is not helped by some factual infelicities). Being sacked for stating facts (not received in confidence) would also be outrageous. Being sacked for gratuitously insulting large numbers of fellow citizens is a rather different matter. Showing oneself blind, indifferent or ignorant of context is also an issue; particularly for someone employed as a journalist.

For example:
The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with is against all ideals of modern society.
The Ottoman Empire was at war (due to a rather complicated series of interactions) with the British Empire, which we were very much a part of and thought ourselves to be. The Gallipoli invasion was perfectly reasonable under both international law and just law theory. Fairly clearly, Mcintyre was appealing to that sort of moral childishness where war is just "doubleplusungood", but these things matter. (At the time of the invasion, said Ottoman Empire was responding to Russian advances in the Caucasus by beginning the Armenian genocide--along with the Assyrian and Pontic Greek genocides--building on a previous, and recent, history of massacre.)

Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.
SBS relies significantly on tax-payer funding and still grapples with a lingering identity issue as "ethnic media". It really does not need this sort of gratuitous undergraduate sneering.

As for:
Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation & their allies in Hiroshima & Nagasaki.
First, if he is referring to the death toll, actually the biggest Tokyo fire raid killed more people in a single night. Second, it was a purely American action: "this nation" had nothing to do with it except in the sense that it was done by an ally. Australian opinion at the time was overwhelmingly supportive, even grateful, since it meant that the War was over; but we were not then, and have never been since, a nuclear power. The nuclear bombings also likely saved a lot of lives, since the alternative of an invasion of Japan was, on the evidence available, going to kill a lot more people. Context matters, and it is the job of a journalist to understand that context matters. 

Which goes back to it not being a free speech issue. If Scott Mcintyre was being hounded merely for having different opinions than others, then it would become a free speech issue. But that is not why he was sacked.

(4) Whether SBS's response was proportionate is a reasonable question. Suspending Scott Mcintyre without pay would definitely have been a reasonable response. Sacking perhaps was too strong,* but one can understand why SBS did not want the issue hanging around during the Gallipoli centenary.

(5) The objections to "mythologising" history are mostly bunk. Progressives regularly mythologise history--notably indigenous history (Stolen Generations anyone? Secret Women's Business?)--and, for that matter, current events (Israel-Palestine). It is what people with strong emotional connections to events do. The objections regarding the "ANZAC myth" are clearly far more about objecting to other people's mythologising. When it comes to the public space, the Virtuous are not sharing folk.

(6) PC is not about civility. This is perfectly obvious to anyone with their wits about them, but the way gratuitous insult is invisible when it was a PC-acceptable target is, yet again, in evidence. One can criticise or demur from the treatment of matters ANZAC without sneering, being misleading or getting one's facts wrong. Which likely has the further advantage of not embarrassing one's employer: they might even have a code of conduct to try and avoid precisely such. 

(A slightly different take is here. Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.)

* Though that also depends on whether he is teachable (i.e. would learn from the experience).