Standing up for freedom of speech

Try as I might, I couldn’t connect this painting to a story about the Lions being unable to stay up in the Super 15 competition.

Yip, this story has nothing to do with rugby.  I had a half baked attempt to write something about the Lions here… but I’ll just play it straight today.

So the ANC is legally bullying an art gallery and South African artist to  take down an unflattering portrait of president Zuma.   Apparently mocking Zuma is a violation of his human rights.

I don’t know Brett Murray from a bar of soap and I really have no opinion as to whether the “Hail to the Thief/Spear of the Nation” portrait depicted here is good art or bad art.  But I will say this.  I have huge respect and admiration for anyone who gets under the skin of the powerful.  And I have even bigger respect and admiration for someone who refuses to back down when the ruling government party starts blustering and threatening legal action.

So – to the knobs in government who don’t understand what free speech means…

Free speech isn’t about the easy stuff.  It’s easy to protect free speech when it stands up for something you believe in.  Protecting free speech is about the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, about the stuff you think is a bad idea, about the stuff that exposes what a hypocrite and a liar you may or may not be.

If you don’t like being made fun of, don’t run for public office.  If you don’t want people to mock you, don’t choose a life that puts you squarely in the public eye.  Your career has been built on the applause and adulation of the public.   You can’t have the praise without the blame.    If you’re upset about all the people who unjustly criticise you, you might also want to think about the people who unjustly praised you.

So here’s to freedom of speech and to here’s to all the artists, cartoonists, journalists and writers who annoy the powerful.

Also – anyone who makes an oblique Radiohead reference in a public art gallery is alright in my book.