Laws Defends Free Speech

John Laws, who has been caught up in another gay controversy, has dedicated part of his morning program to defending free speech.

Laws and fellow 2UE presenter, Steve Price, have vowed to fight the Administrative Decisions Tribunal’s formal finding that they vilified homosexuals.

The Tribunal found comments by Laws and Price were vilification under the Act and were not reasonable, even if done in good faith.

With music playing underneath, Laws has used a section of his program to deny he is anti-gay:

“It’s not going to be too long before I have to apologise for everything that may offend any individual, particularly if he or she is part of a minority group. Maybe I should start to do it right now.

“I apologise for believing that I live in a democracy. I apologise for believing we enjoy freedom of speech in Australia. I apologise for my sense of humour. I apologise for any intelligence, small though it may be, that I have.

“I apologise for my success, I seem to have upset many people for achieving. I really apologise for being here this morning. I’m quite prepared to apologise for breathing. I don’t, however, apologise for being human.”

Despite facing the prospect of apologies or retractions, 2UE has said it will appeal against the decision, saying it believes the law has been applied incorrectly.

2UE General Manager, Bob Miller, has backed Laws’ defence of free speech and Price’s earlier comments, saying the station will appeal because “this is an issue about free speech”.

“Of course, vilification laws exist to protect people from acts of hatred and we support that fully. But, the flip side is that people have to be able to discuss and debate matters of public interest. That is what a talk radio station is there for.”

“The tribunal, in our view, has applied the law incorrectly in this case and made a wrong decision and so we would like to appeal it.

“Neither talk show host will issue an apology, at least not before the appeal process is completed.”

The judgement, as Miller suggests, is being scrutinised by talk radio programmers around the country, because it appears to dilute the defence of “opinion/fair comment” in matters of public interest that is so important in democratic debate and talkback radio. 2UE claimed discussing prime time tv content was a matter of public interest and the defence of opinion on a matter of public interest could be used, but the Tribunal ruled against this defence saying:

“Some of Mr Price’s comments were concerned with the presentation of a male homosexual relationship on television between 6.30 and 7.30 pm on a Sunday evening, when children could or, in Mr Price’s view would, be watching. In particular he was concerned that the program would require him to have to explain homosexuality to his children at that time. To that extent Mr Price’s comments were for purposes in the public interest.

“But those comments were only a part of what constituted Mr Price’s conduct. Also a part of his conduct were the many further comments he made, set out in paragraph 19 above. Those comments were not made for purposes of the public interest. They were made much more frequently than the comments made for public interest purposes, and characterised the whole of the conduct as conduct not done for purposes in the public interest.

In broadcasts almost 18 months ago, they both made derisory comments about a gay couple on television show, ‘The Block’.

Gay activist, Gary Burns, took Laws and Price to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal over comments he said made him physically sick.

The pair was accused of inciting ‘hatred towards, serious contempt for, and severe ridicule of homosexuals’.

In June last year, Price said he did not need to explain to his children about gay couples and said that in an uncut version of The Block, they could do all sorts of grubby things at 11.00 at night.

Laws described the two homosexual men as a couple of poofs. He said putting a gay couple on the show was a lapse in taste for Channel Nine owner, Kerry Packer.

The Tribunal’s Equal Opportunity division found Laws and Price incited listeners to ridicule homosexual men.

There is no prospect of a fine, but both men will have to make apologies.

Burns has told ABC radio he is overjoyed at the decision and is looking forward to helping draft the apologies.

“I want everything. I want whatever I can get from these people.

“But most of all, the message is clear – it doesn’t matter if you live in a Woollahra mansion, have wads of money in your pocket and drive a Celica car, you won’t get away with it. You won’t get away with it, because Mr Burns will put you before the court again and again.”

The ruling comes only days after a full page apology by Laws in the Sydney Star Observer for calling Carson Kressley of ‘Queer Eye For The Straight Guy’ a “pillow biter”.

“Who is this pompous little pansy prig who was strutting around everywhere yesterday? What the hell does a pillow biter know about judging girls?”

The on air comments stirred a wave of complaints, threats and even a boycott of his waterfront restaurant, Otto.

In the full page apology, Laws says: “I would like to say directly to you what I told your representatives – that I abhor and condemn all acts of violence, including homophobic violence, and deeply regret that my remarks might have been interpreted in this way.

“I do apologise to you for any distress my words might have caused.”

Burns has described the Laws apology as limp wristed, and separate action over those comments is pending.

Laws and Price have vowed to fight the formal finding. Price has told listeners: “I made a comment that I did not need to be explaining to my children at 6.30 on a Sunday night what a gay relationship was.

“It was occupying the timeslot once reserved for Disneyland and I couldn’t believe that it had gay blokes renovating in their undies.

“The ruling is a direct attack on free speech. We might as well pack up our microphones and all disappear into the night”.

To see the full Tribunal ruling, copy and paste this link into your browser (sorry, the length of it precludes us doing it for you!)

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