An open letter to the Vice Chancellor of Deakin University, Professor Jane den Hollander Reply

Martin Hirst

Martin Hirst

Dear Professor den Hollander,

Let me introduce myself.

I have been a journalism Professor for fourteen years and a journalist for more than forty. In that time, I have reported and researched east and southeast Asia where freedom of speech is not considered a given, but is regularly contested by journalists seeking to widen it and authorities who may find its use uncomfortable.

Its an issue dear to me and many of my Asian colleagues some of whom have faced intimidation, beatings, imprisonment, and on occasion assassination.

In Australia, free speech is less frequently an open political issue, even though it’s a cornerstone for government, business and the academies. (Indeed its name is deployed to defend the strident views of entertaining contrarians such as Andrew Bolt, who believe strongly in free speech, at least for them selves.)

Australians still pay a price, if a less onerous one, for their rights. A cost to them for all this unmediated talk, is occasionally being exposed to views which one might disagree, expressed in ways that some might find offensive.

But in my view, one should always temper any desire to intervene by consideration of what it means to so. The degree to which we tolerate what some consider intolerable is I believe, a measure of the liberality of our institutions and our society.

I have known Associate Professor Hirst for more than two decades. He’s a prickly individual whose strongly held views have made him enemies, particularly among the right wing commentariat and their swarms of anonymous attack trolls.

But his views of journalism provide a coherent alternative to the more submissive analyses more commonly encountered.

Free speech should be important to all Australians whether they be journalists, academics or ordinary citizens. We should never think of it as static, but rather as a dynamic, which should be celebrated.

To dismiss Associate Professor Hirst over what he may have written in response to social media attacks, sends precisely the wrong message to our students and junior academics who we will be depending on to defend our own rights.

For the reputation of your university, and indeed all Australian universities, I trust you will review this matter.


Emeritus Professor Alan Knight PhD


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