The Press v James Hird


May I offer three comments on recent developments in the press about the tragedy of James Hird?  And it is a tragedy – a typical Australian tragedy, of greatness brought low by ashen mediocrity.

First, the pain and suffering of Hird was in my view a foreseeable consequence of the actions of the press against him.  ‘Foreseeable’ is a word used in the law, but I do not intend it to have any legal consequences in what I have just said.  Rather, I refer to what Nathan Buckley, who seems a very decent man, meant when he said that footballers were not bullet-proof against personal attacks.  No one is.  In my view, the severity and venom of the attacks of the press on Hird were such that it was foreseeable that he would be hurt to an extent that could be life-threatening, or at least require treatment in hospital.

Secondly, since about 1975, I have been involved as a lawyer in acting for or against the press in libel and contempt matters.  I have written a book on law for journalists, and I am now retained to advise one publisher before publication.  I have acted both for and against the ABC, Murdoch, and Fairfax, on many occasions, although for more than 20 years I acted for the ABC.  I have a clear and settled view about where the balance of power lies between the press and those who claim to be hurt by it – and it lies with the money and the corporate political clout.  The press had little trouble in getting all state governments to change the laws to suit them.

Thirdly, the organs of the press that helped to put Hird in hospital are now waging a political campaign – in the case of the Murdoch press, an all-out political campaign – to get the federal government to make it lawful for them to insult or offend others on the ground of their race. That is the freedom they seek when they ask for the repeal of section 18 C. They do so under the preposterous mantra of freedom of speech. If these bullies could do the harm they did to James Hird, and get away with it, what might they do to a poor punch drunk blackfella?

The press went out to get Hird, and they succeeded, with the nauseating results that they and we could foresee. Some agents of the attacks are notorious for mocking failure and for kicking people when they’re down. Will we ever get an apology?  Not on your bloody Nellie, Mate.

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