COMMENTARY

It’s not good enough to be in favour of ‘free speech’ only when we agree with it.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN AND PETER CRONAU
DECLASSIFIED AUSTRALIA
11 MARCH 2022

Police officers detain a woman at an anti-war protest occurring in February 2022. (Photo: AP)

Right now it’s more important than ever to hear critical voices. A growing atmosphere of censorship is enveloping the West in the wake of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and NATO’s uncompromising stance. Evidence is emerging of ‘information operation’ activities being undertaken by both sides, with the circulation of unverified and often unverifiable stories.

Removing access to news channels or points of view that challenge the dominant narrative diminishes our democracies. We believe that only allowing ‘approved’ perspectives on war does nothing to inform the public on what is at stake in a dangerous, geo-political environment. 

Declassified Australia is against censorship. There are few times when curtailing voices of hate are justified. It’s hard to disagree with the removal of a pro-genocide media outlet or anyone inciting direct violence. But the wave of social media networks, journalists and politicians calling for all Russian news or pro-Russian views to be silenced should be resisted. 

Now is the time to hear views that challenge our assumptions. Hearing information from all sides alerts us to the variation of claims and views about events that exist. It can inform us of what various sides in a war are hearing and believing. And if good arguments exist, they can be presented to counter false claims.

It’s a dangerous path to start censoring newspapers, websites, reporters, social media accounts, or views that can be discussed in television shows, even if we believe they’re spreading disinformation. In that logic, mainstream news media outlets in Australia and overseas should be banned for rehashing lies about non-existent Al Qaeda terrorist training camps or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the run-up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Or for their bias in not better covering the victims of Western-approved wars in places like Afghanistan and Yemen.

A healthy democracy both tolerates and encourages a diversity of views, and the coherent challenging of ‘factual’ claims by all sides. It should be unafraid that the general public can process a factually balanced diversity of views. 

Declassified Australia welcomes a robust exchange of ideas and journalism. History shows that democracies don’t survive without it.