Should the media censor Anders Behring Breivik?

Bookmark and Share Ideas & Liberty and Freedom of Speech | James Paterson
Sydney Morning Herald 21st April, 2012

The government certainly shouldn't. If we value the principle of freedom of speech then it should not be illegal to air Breivik's trial. But that principle says nothing about what private media companies should do.

The media - like everybody - has a moral duty to exercise restraint, particularly when it comes to relaying views as disgusting as Breivik's. It is understandable that many people would not want to see Breivik granted a platform for his views. Ultimately, whether to cover Breivik's trial is an editorial judgement to be made by individual news outlets.

Yet it is not clear what would be gained if the media did decide to collectively suppress the broadcast of his trial.

Repellent beliefs flourish in the dark. Censoring the trial could suggest that Breivik's opinions are more powerful and persuasive than they actually are - at least in the minds of his deranged supporters. If governments feel the need to suppress his views, then in the minds of some this will be evidence of their validity.

Conversely, having his views out in the open presents the community with an opportunity to rebut and reject them. There will be no better time to convey our disgust and repudiation of his views to the community at large than during the trial.

What about those who are sympathetic to his agenda? Won't this encourage and embolden them? We cannot pretend that his views are not shared in fascist circles. To his fellow neo-Nazis, Breivik is a martyr already.

Banning his trial from being broadcast is not going to change that. What broadcasting his trial might achieve is to draw them out into the open.

Breivik's ideas already exist. They already have traction among some people in Europe. That's a profoundly scary thing. But there is no law powerful enough to change the minds of people.

There are many myths about the impact of immigration in Europe. Some of them - like bogus predictions that native-born Europeans will be in the minority in a matter of years - are relatively easy to disprove. Others, like deeply held but irrational xenophobia, are harder.

Either way, racism needs to be tackled head on and dealt with, not suppressed. The first step is refuting it in the public arena. The broadcast of Breivik's trial should be seen as an opportunity to do that.

 

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