Canada has been through the mill of legislation that restricts free speech. A number of folk, including Mark Steyn, fell foul of it. Their equivalent of section 18c has been repealed. Our freedom of speech continues backwards at a rate of knots. This is how we over here look to Mr Steyn over there …
~Certainly, free speech in Australia is in a parlous condition. This week, the New South Wales Supreme Court finally wrapped up an 11-year defamation case:
An epic legal battle in Australia over a withering restaurant review by a food critic has finally ended, with a newspaper forced to pay $AUS623,526 [£349,000] for a notorious critique which described the pork belly as “the porcine equal of a parched Weetbix [Weetabix]”
The 2003 review, by Matthew Evans, in the Sydney Morning Herald of plush waterside restaurant Coco Roco provided colourful descriptions of the “soggy blackberries”, “overcooked potatoes”, “outstandingly dull” roast chicken and limoncello oysters that “jangle like a car crash”, before warning readers – perhaps unnecessarily – to “stay home”.
“I’ve never had pork belly that could almost be described as dry,” Evans noted. “Until tonight… Why anyone would put apricots in a sherry-scented white sauce with a prime rib steak is beyond me.”
He also said that the sorbet “jangles the mouth like a gamelan concert”.
None of that strikes me as that withering, not to anyone who recalls the Death Wish director Michael Winner’s foray into restaurant criticism for The Sunday Times. The late Mr Winner would have found “soggy blackberries” and “rubbery and tasteless” apricots rather anodyne criticisms. There seems no good reason why Mr Evans’ review should have led to two jury trials, another before a judge, two appeals, two special-leave High Court applications and a High Court hearing. Of the three restaurateurs, one reported that she “could not walk for half an hour after reading it”, while another claimed it caused her to put on 125 pounds and attempt suicide. That would seem to be their problem, rather than Mr Evans’. I’ve certainly had worse reviews without feeling the urge to take the “outstandingly dull” roast chicken out of the oven and put my head in its place.
The judge, Peter Hall, decided “the hurt to feelings” was exacerbated because the review remained available online. A very dangerous judgment in my view because it will make it more likely that craven media outlets will react to the persistently aggrieved (such as the usual belligerent Islamic lobby groups) by vacuuming the archival record.
At any rate, a society in which you can’t call somebody’s blackberries “soggy” and express bewilderment at the combination of prime rib and apricots in sherry-scented white sauce is not free.