I feel compelled to comment on the sacking of Catherine Deveny from The Age. Bear with me, or ignore it if you've no interest in my being serious - God knows I would understand that. There's plenty of good commentary about anyway, probably better than mine - from Daniel Burt, for example, or even over at Pure Poison - and anyone who reads PP regularly knows they are no fans of Deveny.
I am going to make no pretence to impartiality here. Catherine Deveny is a friend of mine, so I am by no means unbiased. She's not my friend because I agree with everything she says, but she is my friend and obviously I'm likely to take her side when she gets knocked about like this. So this isn't coming from an objective place and I know it.
For what it's worth, I'm troubled by this. Getting sacked for a couple of posts on Twitter? Really? A couple of one-line jokes?
Now, there is no point arguing about whether the jokes were funny. That's purely subjective, and an argument without a point. It's also irrelevant. Were they offensive? Undoubtedly - they clearly offended a lot of people. But then, what comedian hasn't offended someone? What opinion writer hasn't offended someone? I'm regularly offended by right-wing columnists from all parts, and I've never believed my offence was grounds for their dismissal.
And here we are talking about being offended by actual, serious arguments being put forward in articles published in newspapers - not a couple of throwaway gags of 140 characters or less. So is offending people a sin worthy of dismissal? Clearly it's not. Not even at The Age itself - Catherine's been offending people in droves for years, and they haven't kicked her to the kerb.
Tasteless jokes are common among comedians, and even commoner on Twitter. It would seem a huge overreaction for The Age to take this action based on such minor, disposable comments.
But the thing is, they didn't. The Age didn't act on the tweets. The Age acted on the "controversy". The Herald Sun whipped it up, its readers fell into lockstep behind it, and The Age went along with it.
One can't imagine this working the other way. Were The Age to report on a "storm of criticism" being sparked off by Andrew Bolt's latest vicious slurs on refugees, or to denounce, say, his characterising of Kevin Rudd as a murderer who "fries" people in roofs, one doubts the Herald Sun would feel compelled to sack Bolt in response. Au contraire, they'd probably rub their hands with glee at the controversy.
I'm not denying The Age has a right to choose its own columnists. I was kicked off the radio for making bad-taste jokes, and I never claimed the station was engaging in "censorship" for making that kind of editorial decision. But that doesn't mean the decision is right either. The Age has been dictated to by the hysteria concocted by its rivals, and I think that's a shame. They've lost a distinctive voice that, no matter what sort of reaction she provoked, always provided something different in the paper, which could only have been a good thing. And I think that's a shame too.
And this isn't an issue of whether you like Deveny, or think she's funny or not, or approved of the jokes that got her in trouble. It's an issue of whether you think Twitter jokes should be elevated to a level of importance that will lose someone their job. And it's an issue of whether you think simply causing "offence" is a sin serious enough to warrant getting the boot. I think if being offensive is not allowed, it's a rather sad turn of events for the media.
I'm not going to boycott The Age. It will remain the best paper we've got here in Melbourne. I'm just disappointed, and I respectfully disagree. I hope at some point they might reconsider and welcome Deveny back. I would urge them to.