Last Saturday I participated as a panellist at the Disrupted Festival of Ideas. Organised by the State Library of Western Australia, I was on the panel for a discussion concerning the meaning of “Cancel Culture”.
The panel sought to address whether ‘cancel culture’ is just a term utilised to vilify militant leftists or a real thing and a threat to nuanced debate and the safe exchange of ideas. Besides myself, panellists included SLWA chief executive Margaret Allen, Murdoch University post-graduate research student Graeme Paton, and LGBTQI+ activist Kai Schweizer.
The reality is that honest debate is not being allowed. It is deeply ironic that a discussion about cancel culture has been “cancelled” by a cancel culture panellist. As reported by WAtoday and Nine Entertainment media outlets “a SLWA spokesman said the livestream of the cancel culture discussion had been cancelled due to one of the panellists not giving permission for it to air ahead of the event”.
As reported, “the panellist was concerned the discussion could upset some of his followers on social media”. One of the panellists, Mr Paton, told the media Mr Schweizer was concerned participants would raise topics “that might have been disturbing”.
This event was supposedly about the free exchange of ideas and challenging the status quo and the establishment. However, my panel has been censored by one of the members of the status quo.
Of course, nobody denies the harm of hate speech, but it is a foolish assumption that free speech favours those with more power. Anyone who has a basic knowledge of history knows very well that protecting free speech is about giving voice to the powerless against the more powerful established interests.
It is truly unbelievable that a cancel culture panel has been cancelled by a cancel culture panellist during a Festival of “disruptive ideas”. Surely the whole idea of the “Disrupted Festival” was to promote the free exchange of ideas and to be controversial and polemic.
The foundation of a democratic society is the right of people to have freedom of speech without the fear of retaliation and persecution. However, the ruling elites have a particular interest in preserving the status quo by suppressing reasonable debate and the free exchange of ideas.
These privileged individuals have been doing it before we knew it as “cancel culture”, back when it was just called ‘political correctness’. To preserve their current status quo, they will continue to suppress dissenting ideas and to prohibit opposing voices that challenge their hegemonic discourse in our democratic society.
This is precisely why the public display of this cancel culture panel discussion has been cancelled by another cancel culture panellist. We must never surrender our fundamental right to freedom of speech.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, Perth, and adjunct law professor at The University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus). He is editor of the forthcoming ‘Fundamental Rights in the Age of Covid-19’, a book to be published by Connor Court with contributions from leading law academics and policymakers in the field.
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