THE BOLT CASE
A CHRISTIAN CALL TO CARE
FREE SPEECH - IS IT ENDANGERED ?
The Australian October 3, 2011
In view of Chapters 1 and 2 of Christ, Not Culture, The Lord Not Man, Truth Not Mere Intractability, this development may be seen in the light of contemporary history with so mean significance.
On October 3rd., there appeared an article in The Australian, p. 14. Before this, in court there had appeared a judgment on a well-known journalist, Andrew Bolt. It has stirred depths in the land, even to the point of an entire page in the national newspaper, bought by those outraged at what is considered the depredation of liberty and useful assessment in the land. Even, by such means as this, is the result of litigation, judicial pronouncement and its reasons confronted.
In the article, the relevant Judge, source of the pronouncements (just as Bolt was the source of his own, both giving opinions), we learn, conceded that the issues raised by Bolt's analysis were indeed matters of public interest. However, it appears that he made judicial claims concerning his own powers of discernment which as reported at least, were somewhat if not entirely matters of private perception, which in turn judged the matters in question, in kind, so silencing them as far as legal penalties may.
The extraordinary claims of the Judge, as the article depicts it, include these: some words of Bolt, averred the Judge, held more than their literal meaning.
This needs thought.
If there were imagery, then in some ways more, in others less, than what is stated might be the case. If it is raining cats and dogs, then more is meant, that is, that it was heavy rain, and less, in this, that cats and dogs do not actually appear. No genius is needed for that. However, the idea of a literal meaning, and of someone meaning more than this by his words, if not in this kind of field, may prima facie, be a meaningful one; though what that meaning is, is less than apparent, needing intelligent guesswork.
Does it mean that the assailed speaker had in mind something more devastating, critical, than actually stated ? If so, this is a liberty that cannot be commended, on the part of the interpreter. If I say that someone is unintelligent, then more than the 'literal' meaning, might be that he is a fool. It might be maintained that the general tenor of my utterance obviously meant that! However, for any kind of restrained and careful, just and true presentation, one would need to show precisely WHERE and IN WHAT and WHY it is being stated that more is meant. In the case of Mark Anthony saying a few words on Caesar, and stating that he did not come to praise Caesar but to bury him, one might in this strange-seeming style of speech, form the opinion that he had more in mind than this 'literal' meaning. Thus you might hold the view that he in fact DID come to praise Caesar, whatever kind of burial speech might have been in mind. Thus he contradicted by guile his stated intent.
The term 'literal' however, if it was used in the judgment would appear strange. Words might portend more, the intention might exceed the statement, the hinting might incorporate far more and so on; and this would need to be shown in a carefully reasoned way, if a legal matter, putting it beyond all doubt. You cannot in justice given an opinion which might be wide of the mark, and just put it down to your own account of psychic disposition. If this were so, opinion would be politically, psychically or prejudicially in charge of millions and prisons. Is a libel case really about someone's feeling for some view, or for a reasoned and sustainable view, where evidence collides with no fact ?
Is this visionary and illusory ? One does not think so. IF you are going to trouble someone with fines, loss of reputation and possibly prison, you had better, if justice has due bearing, make sure that it surpasses all political and psychic zest. Judges are not supposedly, for example, to represent Labour or Liberal Party views, for why then have them or mouth the word 'justice'!
Let us suppose then, that the meaning of' 'literal' was this: that the words spoken were in a context of such depreciation or degradation of the object in view, that a harsher judgment MUST be implied, and this can readily be shown by a number of devices employed by the writer. One must be innocent until shown guilty, not averred to breach some ideas of a judge, who is supposedly not on his own side, but on that of justice, and appointed for the latter, and not the former reason. It is vain to claim that all are necessarily subject to prejudice. That is a philosophical opinion, sometimes a deterministic concept (against which see Christ Incomparable ... Ch. 2 and Repent or Perish Ch. 7), and is merely an intrusion of personal belief systems as a source for judging someone else's belief systems, and reasons, which comes close to establishment of a religion: when it is used as an indicator of what is just judgment. This is of course forbidden as a formal act by the Constitution. Belief is one thing; force is another.
We DO need evidence, not mere contention about literal and non-literal meanings in any seemingly strange use of the term.
This however does not appear at all to be all! The Judge, it is reported, acknowledged the presence of some mitigating phrases by Bolt, in the material to which objection had been made. This appears a second source of information about the document of Bolt. What are these mitigating phrases ? in what do they mitigate ? to what extent does this impact on the meaning, as given, of the statements themselves ? and what is the joint result of statement and mitigation relative to any imagined or claimed assault on the parties who object, as closely reasoned and carefully articulated after particular reviews ?
That is the necessity logically. However, in any case, we find that while the Judge is reported to have accepted the meaning, as given, the 'literal' meaning of some of Bolt's phrases, he has an opinion, a personal one it would seem, about the psyche of Bolt, or about what he really thought, and the relationship of these 'real' thoughts to this somewhat depreciated thing, his actual words.
Now there are some who believe in priests. The word of the priest may be thought to damn or deliver; and to provide what must be done in pain and sentence. It may be claimed by some that this is the very word of God and must be done, that there is no deliverance and that this is final. Those who choose such religions are aware, in the main, one supposes, of these conditions and freely enter into them. However, being born in Australia would not appear a sufficient condition for the expectation that one expects anyone in government, in any of its three parts, to act in this manner. There is no acknowledged and enforced religion, nor is it permitted that there be one. To be sure, in the Preamble to the Constitution, there is reference to dependence on Almighty God, much breached now; but this is far from being an obligation to be in dependence on non-gods!
Thus, from the article in view, it appears that the Judge who gave judgment against Bolt, held powers, psychic capacities, divine enablement, or some other form of authority and sensitivity, to enable him to differentiate between real and imaginary meaning in words, when the issue is the words given and held libellous; and as to whether, whatever the real or imaginary meaning of words, the speaker in fact believed in them himself.
What then ? Perhaps, it could be postulated, he did not know his own mind, and was mindless in part or in whole. Perhaps, it could be maintained, he was devious, like Mark Anthony, stating one thing and demonstrably meaning another, as shown by the whole application and practically expected outcome of his speech. This might be done with due care when the case is not subject to the doubts and dangers of mere thought or impression. We are not governed by impression, nor do we pay for it; but for justice we seek in such matters, and to that, many would add mercy, if we are inclined or committed as this writer is, to what is biblical. BOTH should be present to prevent carping criticism, presumptuous or even hypocritical enlargement of faults, or indeed, their mere imagination; as well as for other and deeper reasons. Meanwhile, let us revert: we are looking for justice when this is in view.
Thus what is to be found ? Is the Judge a judge of sincerity, or hypocrisy, of meanings past what hermeneutics can show in any objective fashion, and is such a judge able to form opinions about statements and qualifications, such as are normal in science for example, and natural to man, whether despite the time and effort put into such formulations, concerning their trash or untruth value ? Can he readily determine whether indeed they are at all acceptable. How far should judgment go in this field ? Even if an objectively sustainable, that is an evidentially compelling and clear-cut case could be made for hypocrisy or confusion on the part of the speaker being assessed by the Judge, there is still need to show in WHAT and WHERE and to WHAT EXTENT this is supposed to be the case, and a comparison would be needed of the opposite case, where this is held not to be so, with eminently apparent reason and comprehensiveness, so that in the result, no injurious action should be taken.
Perhaps enough has been shown to exhibit that the hundreds of people who signed the full page advertisement in The Australian, on this area and in this arena, appear to have no small point in their general type of concern. Is liberty to have lordship, or is expression to have psychic embellishments so that what one freely says is psycho-analysed, an art of some small question, or in some way estimated, so that its precise distance from what one means may be measured by a Judge ? Can one speak to no effect, and be judged by sovereign effect, despite all protestation ? Is legal sophistication to supply the very depth of God ? or is prudence to be careful not only in intent, but in actuality, as verifiable, to say NOTHING which is not being presented with due evidence where the words are after all, in libel, the thing to which exception has been taken.
Doubtless, the particular case, apart from these generic considerations applicable in general, has many details. It is not my concern to enter into these. It is the arena of liberty which is raised; not to condemn this or that, but to ask questions ? Is it so ? If it is, why Is it so ? If not, why not ?
Certainly, whatever the details of the case, happily left to the lawyers, there are principles involved, which need research and determination, so that if the case be at all similar to the depiction in the article in view, redress might be sought wisely and in timely fashion. If people can say what they like and qualify it as they like, and be judged to have spoken a measurable or significant distance from the heart, then heart knowledge attains to what appears a new eminence among men: people can have it and apply it, noxiously, pretentiously or accurately. It is however difficult to find those who have it in and of themselves: in the case of even Solomon, there was some question as to which of the two ladies actually was the mother of a child. Solomon did not rely on heart knowledge, but invented a test: which would let the other have the babe, if it were to be killed ? This was evidence. It helped.
Heart knowledge needs very considerable checking among men. God has it, as this writer with good reason (cf. SMR) believes. Yet playing God is not a commendable work. It is not a matter for play. Whether in this case, that is the question depends on many considerations; and it may be that vast amounts of material evidence and compelling argumentation have been made, all cumulative and comparative to alternative views. As noted, it is not the case to determine the issue, but to raise the issues. If all is well, so be it. If not, action is needed.
THE GENERAL ISSUE OF NEWS AND WHAT IS PERMISSIBLE
It might be added that in the forthcoming checking on newspapers and public utterance which is in governmental sights, much the same sort of principles apply. Some find sensibility'-meters within themselves, it may be, which sovereignly enable them to outlaw certain forms of speech, perhaps including those not governed by guns, or oil, or nuclear weapons as instruments of fear, or mere fashion. Certain things may be deemed to carry emotional problems to some, and indeed if we really set our minds to it, some might find from the inflection with which one says, 'Good Morning!' virtual slander.
It is apparent that if truth is to be weighed, then words must be given their due weight. Seeing past them is possible, hypocrisy is not uncommon, and deceit is not unknown. Indeed, manipulation is even forwarded with relish by some, whether for commercial or political reasons. However, when the very criteria become personal assessments of what the culture or some within it, will bear, we have lost the race. Then we become a servile nation, addicted to itself, measuring itself by itself (as Paul declared of some pretentious false prophets - I Cor. 10:12), foreign to truth, like inane pseudo-doctors, unqualified, peering down throats and declaring what they find. Where truth is no longer the criterion, and power or even passion in its presentation is no longer permitted, the nation is dead that so acts. The USSR died before its cremation, and it is not alone. Down the centuries, many seek to determine in the name of the State, the fate of what is said, even truth, on the basis of authority. At times, for example, it seemed good to the Roman Empire to be worshipped. That is but one form. Altogether, it makes for rather grotesque reading, at this level.
If truth is to be harried, unreality stares you in the face.
Is Australia, to continue the theme about information and newspapers in the planned investigation, to lie down and become a dead people, full of itself and empty of truth ? It is hoped that it will have enough independence of spirit to resist such a fate; though strong are the forces which impel to just such a destiny, where man as man rules, and what he is for is no longer relevant. Then he is for the State, and the State becomes most reluctant to leave its vast new power, since it helps so many in so many ways ...