‘Deplatforming’ is a form of political activism whose purpose is to deny the opportunity to speak or write, to those with views the activists find unacceptable. It is a form of censorship, and can be official, unofficial or a mixture. At the extreme, as in the former Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, the state apparatus deplatforms any criticism of the ruling regime. Dr Goebbels was the head of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. He didn’t like the term ‘propaganda’ because of the baggage that came with it, but Hitler did like it, so the name stayed. Press, radio and cinema were taken over or infiltrated. Public criticism of the Nazi regime disappeared. To the east, the state apparatus of the USSR owned everything that had to do with information. Yes, there were two national newspapers, Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News). As a Russian quip had it, one paper had no truth and the other no news. Pravda was the newspaper of the Communist Party, while Izvestia was the mouthpiece of the Soviet Government. There was not a lot of difference.
We in ‘Western democracies’ regard (and regarded) such censorship as abhorrent, one of the evil manifestations of totalitarianism we were opposed to. But democratic governments too have deplatformed controversial speakers by refusing them visas. And not just in the recent past, either. The most notorious case in Australia is probably that of Egon Kisch, an anti-Nazi speaker who had an adventurous and highly successful time in Australia in 1934 after having been denied entrance as an undesirable, then jumping on to the wharf in Sydney, then dealing with court case after court case. The outcome was that he became nationally and internationally famous, far more so than would have been the case had the Lyons Government simply let him in at the beginning. That Government used its wide powers to keep out other ‘undesirable’ visitors in the 1930s, and its successors have continued the practice, including the present Coalition Government.
So we have our own practices to consider. My interest in censorship arose from my being a political scientist who was also a writer and public commentator. I have had one or two telephoned death threats arising from what I had written in the public prints — another form of attempted deplatforming: ‘Stop it or else! And we know where you live…’ You have to disregard that kind of pressure or succumb. When I became a vice-chancellor I added another reason to take censorship seriously, and this was in the university context. There had been student protests in the 1970s, when I was at Macquarie University. In one incident students invaded the administration building and the Council room. In the 1990s what was happening in the USA seemed like a precursor to what might happen here. In the US the students were putting pressure on their university to take back an invitation to a notable speaker to speak at a graduation ceremony, on the ground that they didn’t like some of what he or she had said or written somewhere else.
I didn’t want that kind of stuff here, let alone the invasion of a public meeting on the campus where students drowned out the speaker with their own public address system. Australian universities have no campus police forces, unlike their American counterparts, and you couldn’t and shouldn’t use campus police to control student politics anyway. I wrestled with what to do if… and how to do it… I was not going to be weak-kneed about it: I was opposed to censorship and deplatforming, and the students had better know. As it turned out, I was worried about nothing. The University of Canberra was a professional school, catering for virtually all the professions except medicine, dentistry and vet. We did not have a Arts faculty as such, and our courses required systematic hard work from the students. They didn’t have time to organise or disrupt a public speech. If we had speakers, they were from the professions or the employers, who were listened to respectfully. I never had the opportunity to show my mettle in the battle for free speech on campus.
But deplatforming has been alive and well in the media, and even in academic journals. It is abundantly clear that in the area of climate change it is extremely hard to get published, if what you are presenting is evidence and argument that does not accord with the IPCC and climate-concerned world view. I’ve read papers that got away with it by having a couple of sentences at the beginning or end which asserted that none of this meant that AGW is not occurring and not a problem. The CRU emails that were published showed clearly that the climate- scientist activists were prepared to put real pressure on editors to stick to their hymn book. A couple of editors resigned to get away from it. (You need perhaps to know that the vast majority of academic journal editors, maybe even the magic 97 per cent, do not get paid for their labours. Nor do members of their editorial boards. It’s all voluntary.)
In the public arena the BBC sticks very close to the hymn book, as does the ABC here. The Guardian newspaper is amazing, and you can read about what its editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, has said to its readers here.
To summarise, We want to ensure that we arebeing scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. These are the guidelines provided to our journalists and editors to be used in the production of all environment coverage across the Guardian’s website and paper.
1.) ‘climate emergency’ or ‘climate crisis’ to be used instead of ‘climate change’.
2.) ‘climate science denier’ or ‘climate denier’ to be used instead of ‘climate sceptic’.
3.) Use ‘global heating’, not ‘global warming’.
4.) ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ not ‘carbon emission’ or ‘carbon dioxide emissions’.
5.) ‘wildlife’ not ‘biodiversity’
4.) Use ‘fish populations’ instead of ‘fish stocks’
Strewth! as we used to say (for those interested in etymology, it is a shortening, a ‘minced oath’, of ‘God’s truth’.) Hasn’t the editor-in-chief read Orwell’s 1984? This is Newspeak with a vengeance. Peter Murphy of CFACT (I’m not permitted to provide the link, apparently. Just go to cfact.org and search: October 10th2019) had this to say the other day:
To the extent some alarmists notice a different take, they want them ignored or silenced. This is dangerous, and it goes beyond climate issues. It’s bad enough for global warming activists and groups to attempt to silence opposition. A more problematic trend is when it comes from the media itself.
He is a sceptic, and so is CFACT. He gives many more examples, mostly American, of the same kind of deplatforming. What can one say, let alone do, about a newspaper that is supposed to act as a reliable, credible source of information, but says that those who disagree with it are quite wrong and not to be heard?
Ms Viner probably thinks that glaciers are melting fast, the Arctic will be ice-free very soon, if not tomorrow, and that anyone who disagrees about all that is a ‘climate denier’. What an asinine instruction! Who denies there is a climate? What an example to her reporters of being ‘scientifically precise’! How did she get to be any kind of editor, let alone one ‘in chief’? As for melting snow, she should study the graph beneath, done in Rutgers University (New Jersey, quite reputable) from NOAA and other official stats. Not much change there.
If I were to try to point this out to a Guardian reader, given an appropriate story to hang it on to, would I be treated as a ‘climate denier’? Yet the graph and the evidence on which it is based are part of the official data used by all ‘climate scientists’.
I suppose I could post a ‘trigger warning’ on this website to the effect that The Guardian is not an acceptable source of information about climate, or probably anything else, since I expect there are other forbidden subjects too. But no. That is not my way. All I can do is growl a ‘Grrr’ or two, and wait for some kind of sanity to return.