by John Lacey

Whether you think the Chaser sketch was funny or not, offensive or not, the words of the ABC managing director Mark Scott seem really rather ominous.

We need to fully review the ABC’s approval processes for programs that deliberately challenge public attitudes.

Programs that ‘deliberately challenge public attitudes’ require greater scrutiny than programs that merely reflect the popular world view?

Now it seems entirely possible that this is mostly a PR exercise to appease the masses but supposing it isn’t, what will that mean – not just for the Chaser – but for ABC programming in general? Will programs that offer a variety of viewpoints (Insiders, The 7:30 Report, Q&A) be carefully edited to only reflect the most popular opinions at given moment? Let’s not forget that Media Watch was taken off air once for having opinions that weren’t ‘popular’ with ABC management.

Surely the true merit of the ABC (not needing to appease advertisers) is its ability to offer a variety of viewpoints, even unpopular ones.

If there is anything to be taken from the Chaser experience it is two-fold. Australians are very protective of their children. And they don’t care for dissenting vantage points. It is at this point that I stop to reflect on the title of this very website: Somebody Think Of The Children.

A friend told me last night that she liked the title of the site. Working in a government office, she told me, those words are plastered on the office wall to remind people to consider the interests and needs of children when organising events. Though most of us will recognise it as part of Stephen Conroy’s ‘Clean Feed’ rhetoric. The implication was always that if you weren’t happy to have the government censor the Internet that you didn’t care about children, that the Internet was a wretched place of depravity that only Mr. Conroy could make suitable for families and children.

In an abstract way I agree with the general sentiment. We should be thinking of the children. We should be thinking about the lost competitive advantage our kids would endure if they lost a resource as useful as the Internet in its current form. We should be thinking about the harm our children will endure if the only information they come into contact with is carefully filtered by the government. We should carefully consider the consequences of sheltering our children away from real world ideas and concepts. You could be forgiven at times for example, given their seemingly anti-sex stance, that Family First have forgotten how families are created. Immaculate conception, anyone?

Freedom of speech isn’t just about having the ability to express your opinions, it is also about having a tolerance for the opinions of others – even (especially!) opinions that differ from your own.