Should journalists be allowed to say what they like under the auspices of “free speech” or should they be tempered to mirror the opinions of their employer?
That appears to be the conundrum in light of the now infamous comments from SBS journalist Scott McIntyre’s (equally brave and misguided) tweets over the weekend regarding Australia’s war history and the ethics of the soldiers involved. McIntyre was swiftly punted by SBS bosses on Sunday.
McIntrye – a sports journalist with the broadcaster – tweeted to his 30,000 footy followers that he believed Australia’s World War One veterans were “rapists” and “thieves”, he called those commemorating Anzac Day “poorly read drinkers and gamblers” and Australian war service personnel were complicit in the greatest terror attacks of all – the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It has been reported that McIntyre is not responding to any media requests and is seeking legal advice about his termination from SBS who described his position as “untenable”. He has also reportedly received hate mail and death threats since going public with his views.
SBS allegedly told McIntyre he’d breached its social media protocol that says, “while SBS employees have the right to make public comment and to enter into public debate in their personal capacity, it is important to ensure that SBS is not brought into disrepute”.
His sacking has gone all the way to the top with Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, issuing a statement that he had nothing to do with the sports journalists removal. “The management of SBS, however, not the government, is responsible for staffing decisions at SBS,” Turnbull said.
However, there have been a number of commentators – primarily left-leaning journalists – who’ve argued McIntyre, and anybody for that matter, should be able to say what they like. It’s free speech after all. In yesterday’s Fairfax press, his termination was seen as a “travesty of the principle of free speech”.
The AFR’s Geoff Winestock famously tweeted his support saying, “Ridiculous. Frightening. I also think Anzacs were racist yobs and Anzac Day is a death cult. Sack me Fairfax.”
Last night on the ABC’s 7.30 program, media commentator and former Fairfax columnist, Mike Carlton, also professed his support for McIntyre and a journo’s right to say what they like.
“I think some of it was over the top and some of it was plainly wrong,” Carlton said of McIntyre’s comments. “But he’s entitled to his opinions and he should be free to express them whether his employers like them or not. He didn’t bring SBS into disrepute, nobody in their right mind would think anything he said was an official SBS view and he should be perfectly free to tweet whatever he likes.
“Scott McIntrye is entitled to whatever beliefs he likes and he’s entitled to tweet those beliefs, the fact that he works at SBS doesn’t matter a damn,” Carlton argued.
However, Carlton’s comments were tempered by other guests who shared a contrary view – primarly those with a military background.
Neil James, the executive director of the Australia Defence Association, said on last night’s program: “I think a lot of ex-service personnel and their families would be pretty offended. His opinions represented an ideological position which surely makes them unfit to work at a public broadcaster.”
NSW RSL president, Rod White, said McIntryre’s comments were “disappointing and in bad taste”.
“Our (RSL) members and the broader community would be disappointed, disgusted; feeling that this is not part of our culure to criticise, to that extent, the service of those who went from this country to assist so many other countries over the last 100 years.
“There’s a culture here that Australians will go far for a comment and surely if you’re prepared to go beyond that you have to face up to it and be prepared to back it up.