This isn’t something I had planned to discuss any time soon, but recent headlines in Australia have pushed it to the head of the queue.
If you don’t follow Australian politics closely, you may have missed the recent news that seems to have obsessed the Canberra press pack. During a live interview with Julia Gillard last week on Fairfax-owned Perth radio station 6PR, shock jock Howard Sattler, concluding that irrelevancies such as the carbon and mining taxes, health and fiscal policy, border protection and overseas military commitments were of little or no interest to his audience, chose instead to spend his time with our nation’s Prime Minister grilling her about certain rumours concerning the sexual orientation of her partner, Tim Mathieson.
6PR’s management responded by sacking Sattler, a 28-year veteran of the station, and offering an unconditional apology to both Gillard and Mathieson. The only decent course of action.
But it does raise the whole issue of the Libertarian approach to libel law. Personally, I would prefer to steer clear of the whole subject of the private lives of the rich and famous; a good slice of the entire World Wide Web seems devoted to it, and I see no reason for LibertyGibbert to add to the whole sorry cacophony. Unfortunately, to even discuss developments in Australian politics over the last year is to be dragged down into that particular sewer. This is entirely due to the reckless misuse of public money by many federal and state politicians, right up to the holder of the highest office in parliament, as I’ve documented. There are countries where libel law is such that these allegations would never have seen the light of day.
Countries like Britain, for example. Two weeks ago, a veritable avalanche of speculation (in the Australian MSM, anyway) regarding two high-profile political identities was followed by a silence so deafening that several British correspondents have told me they were completely unaware of it. I suspect one of these may be the explanation for this.
And these are just the stories in circulation in the MSM. As a blogmeister and one with certain acquaintances in the political world, I am privy to all kinds of rumours that will never see the light of day on this channel… because they’re utterly irrelevant, whether they’re true or not. Then there are rumours, like this one, which are definitely of legitimate public interest and inevitably find their way into the public domain.
In fact, to even suggest that a rumour exists at all concerning one of the media’s darlings is to invite howls of opprobrium, as conservative journalist Piers Akerman discovered yesterday when he confirmed on the ABC’s Insiders program that he, too, had been aware for some years of the Mathieson rumours (but had obviously never mentioned them before in his column). I strongly suspect that, had the rumours concerned instead a conservative politician or his/her spouse or partner, the outraged howls would have been greatly muted, or absent entirely. I won’t speculate here on the reasons, though others have.
Where does Libertarianism stand on the issue of libel? For a definitive view, this excerpt from Murray N. Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty covers all the bases. Commencing with two pillars of Libertarian theory—property rights and the non-aggression principle—Rothbard fleshes out his position with eloquence, not to mention some counter-intuitive conclusions. He dismantles as muddle-headed, the notion held by some Libertarians that one’s reputation is in fact a form of property, invested with the same rights as one’s real property and chattels. Reputation, counters Rothbard, exists in the mind of others. As we are the owners of our own bodies and minds, he argues, we cannot claim property in what resides in the domain of others. So reputation is not covered by Libertarian property rights. Long before the advent of the internet, he wrote
For in that libertarian society since everyone would know that false stories are legal, there would be far more skepticism on the part of the reading or listening public, who would insist on far more proof and believe fewer derogatory stories than they do now.
Unafraid to follow his precepts to their logical conclusions, Rothbard goes further, finding there can be no ethical restriction on blackmail either, however repugnant we may personally view the practice. I suspect, though, that such an idealistic state of affairs will have to await a cultural change in which the public is indeed a whole lot more sceptical of everything it hears and reads, particularly from extremely dubious “authority figures”, than it currently manifestly is.
As the Gillard Labor government spirals daily into ever-more desperate throes of recrimination and self-immolation, casting itself in the rôle of the victim is starting to look like an increasingly appealing option. Expect more of this sort of thing to emerge in the coming days and weeks. And take it all with a grain of salt. Like the Rockwell portrait at the top, rumour-mongers tend to find that karma ends up biting them on the arse—sooner or later.
But enough of that, and on to more important matters: Kim Kardashian’s just had a baby!!! And is Tim Mathieson really the father? You heard it here first…