David Bullard says we’ve lost our freedom of expression long ago already
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Oudtshoorn. 28 March 2012. 06h30.
“It really doesn’t matter whether or not the Secrecy Bill becomes law or not. We lost our right to freedom of expression long ago and we didn’t even know it was happening. What’s worse, though, is that we lost the right to laugh at ourselves.”
It probably came as no surprise to those of us with a healthy reserve of cynicism that our beloved MPs voted for the Secrecy Bill on 22 November 2011. For years I have been warning in this column (in the days when it appeared in the Sunday Times) that our freedoms are under threat. I wrote long ago that the loss of freedom is rather like the gradual ageing process. You awake one morning and notice a new wrinkle and the fact that hair is leaving your head and sprouting out of your ears. Similarly, you awake one morning to find that you are suddenly not allowed to say this or read that and you wonder at what point exactly that freedom disappeared.
The most worrying thing, though, is that the real threat comes not from the ANC but from the print industry itself. I didn’t bother to wear black on 22 November or stand outside Luthuli House with a gag across my mouth.That sort of futile demonstration is designed more to stroke the egos of the demonstrators than it is to effect change. Why would I want to support a duplicitous media in a demonstration that is clearly more about self-preservation than it is about freedom of expression? I got sacked nearly four years ago for criticising the ANC over the years and pointing out many of the party’s more dangerous foibles. Sacked by one of the newspapers that now protests that the Secrecy Bill, if and when it becomes law, will stop the print media from doing its job. Sorry chaps, but you can’t have it both ways. Either you believe in freedom of expression or you don’t.
The sort of people who do seem to have been genuinely surprised by the vote for the Secrecy Bill are the gullible white liberals who have blindly supported the ANC for years, believing it could do no wrong. Those who pranced around in the streets in the 1980s, ran “alternative” newspapers and desperately tried to get arrested to enhance their struggle cred must feel very let down. The bouffant-haired Caxton professor of journalism at Wits, Anton Harber, frequently castigates me on Twitter for not having been part of the struggle in the 1980s. He once asked me whether I thought the smoke in the townships was coming from my cigar. To listen to him and people like Max du Preez and Zapiro jabber on you would think that Nelson Mandela only played a walk-on part in the liberation struggle.
For the white lefty “activists” (they love that word) of the eighties, finding out that the ANC is just as devious when it comes to suppressing potentially damaging revelations as were the Nats must be rather like discovering your wife of 20 years has been shagging your best friend for 19 of them. One can understand why the poor darlings are a little out of sorts. But that doesn’t satisfactorily explain why so many of our newspaper editors are more than happy to impose their own brand of censorship. Surely freedom of expression should be non-negotiable and unconditional? The fact that some things that are written or said may offend certain people is bad luck and there are already laws to protect people against defamation. If simply being offended by something somebody writes ever constitutes a criminal offence then we are in real trouble. But perhaps we’re already in real trouble because political correctness does a far better job of censoring freedom of speech than the law could ever hope to do. Thanks to a clique of nauseatingly PC editors and the power of the social media to name and shame, it is now possible to effectively ban many topics that really do need a public airing from time to time. This probably explains why so many newspaper columns are so achingly dull and insipid. Who is going to be dumb enough to risk job loss and public humiliation by tackling a sensitive topic head on?
But it’s not just freedom of expression that the PC thought police are in the process of killing off. Political correctness is no friend of humour and we are in grave danger of becoming a terminally serious country. Make a joke about coloured people, as Kuli Roberts did, and the harpies of the Internet will descend, wings flapping furiously, and demand retribution. Before long the PC editors will no doubt release a long list of topics deemed unworthy of mockery. Thanks to the sinister Lead SA project we already have the Orwellian concept of thought crime. To even think a negative thought about our beautiful country now relegates you to social pariah status… even if you do leave your car headlights on during the day. So it really doesn’t matter whether or not the Secrecy Bill becomes law or not. We lost our right to freedom of expression long ago and we didn’t even know it was happening. What’s worse, though, is that we lost the right to laugh at ourselves.
You too can, and should, object to POSIB – click here. Ed. (POSIB: Protection os State Information Bill.)
by David Bullard
Published in PLAYBOY South Africa Jan / Feb 2012