Shock jocks and free speech


A notorious Australian radio shock jock is dealing with advertisers abandoning him en masse, on account of his juvenile description of New Zealand’s PM. It’s been a long time coming, too long, but I’m relieved more companies are choosing to distance themselves.

The response from Twitter has been overwhelmingly positive, based on replies to the advertisers’ announcements. But the trolls have trotted out their usual logical fallacies in response, seemingly without irony. The biggest is that it’s an attack on free speech.

Let’s explore this for a second. Using your free speech to explain why you’re pulling a commercial relationship is against free speech? If we take this specious reasoning to its logical conclusion, how is compelling a brand to continue advertising on a platform they don’t want to constitute free speech?

Which reminds me, where were the free speech arguments when this shock jock only interviewed people against climate change? Surely not letting scientists present their overwhelming evidence-based consensus stifles free speech too? What about screening callers, shouldn’t he let anyone speak? And why is it only his show specifically, shouldn’t they let anyone and everyone host it then?

This all also ignores the fact Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, and we’ve had de facto freedom of speech only by convention and weak legal precedent. And even that doesn’t apply to businesses, whether they be commercial radio stations or advertisers.

By all means, have a discussion about the role advertising money has on shaping reporting, especially in light of shrinking revenue bases and the challenges faced with online publishing. I’ve been thinking about that a lot myself. But this isn’t an attack on free speech, it’s free speech itself.

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