Today’s sacking of Catharine Deveny by the Age is the latest in a string of people getting in trouble for offensive tweeting. Nick Snowden was kicked out of the Liberal party only a couple of weeks ago.
I think this is a terrible move by Age and sends a terrible message. Is it too much to hope our newspapers might wear a little embarrassment for the sake of erring on the side of free expression?
Is The Age suggesting that Catharine is an advocate of child sex, as evidenced by her tweet? If so, the sacking might indeed be justified. Some views are too extreme or offensive to the public to want to have them associated with your organisation. As a media organisation, I wouldn’t want to employ virulent racists, for instance – not only are they unpleasant people, it would be bad for business. Encouraging promiscuity in 11-year-olds would be a pretty extreme and offensive position to most people.
However, if The Age doesn’t believe that’s Catharine’s position, it must believe the tweet was a joke – an offensive, off-colour joke. This means that they fired a humorist, known (and hired) for being edgy, for making a one-sentence offensive joke on her own time in another medium.
To me that’s obviously no way to run a newspaper. A newspaper can employ somebody who writes something they wouldn’t publish in another medium, surely. Are Age columnists all constrained to having opinions that are uncontroversial enough for the papers of a daily broadsheet, even when not on the Fairfax clock?
This trend concerns me a bit. Imagine I make an embarrassingly off-colour joke today, then I run for office in 10 years time. Must I defend everything, including its context, lest it be held up forever as an example of ignorance, insensitivity, bigotry, or just a ribald sense of humour? I’d be worried if all of our future politicians are selected from only those who, in their 20s, never dared to write something embarrassing.
I hope Catharine finds another outlet for her writing.
For more corporate censorship fun, if you missed it, see my article on the iPad in New Matilda last week.