Free Speech and Big Brother

I once shared an office with a girl who was from Vietnam. One day, she came into the office with an awed expression. “What happened?” I asked.

“I saw a protest on the way to work!” she exclaimed. As the explanation came tumbling out, it transpired she’d seen some sort of protest against the government. What had really shocked her was that some of the protesters had pairs of balloons and they had burst them, laughing and saying “We’re busting Howard’s balls!”

“So what?” I said. “Seems like a childish kind of protest, but it’s funny too.”

She looked me squarely in the eye and said, “If anyone protested against the government in Vietnam, they’d be gaoled.”

I became aware of how lucky we are to have freedom of speech, even to do silly things like burst “virtual testicles”.

This leads me to the topic of “Big Brother”. I should declare my bias at the start. I can’t stand reality TV. It makes my skin crawl to see all those people back-biting, fighting and bullying. As I said to my husband, “There’s enough of that in a law firm without having to watch it at night.” But my general belief is that networks should be free to air such programmes, even if I find them repulsive.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that “Big Brother” has crossed the line. In fact, I thought it crossed the line last year when a male housemate apparently put his genitalia into a female housemate’s hair when massaging her. Now reports suggest a male housemate held down a female housemate while a second male housemate “playfully” stuck his genitalia into her face. Both female “victims” have said that they were not offended. Maybe I’m just a prude. But I sure as hell would be offended if these things happened to me!

I note that the two men are not going to be charged with assault, and that it is doubtful whether assault charges can be laid where there is no complaint. In any case, it seems to me that the television station has encouraged housemates to engage in exhibitionist and stupid behaviour. I understand it may be fined, and I certainly think that it should be answerable for creating the situation whereby these events can occur.

It’s a sad state of affairs when that’s what Australian commercial television has to offer.

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5 Comments

Filed under freedom of speech, media, television

5 responses to “Free Speech and Big Brother

  1. Anonymous

    It’s that old adage about bad taste versus evil. “Big Brother” is decidedly in bad taste, so I exercise my right not to watch it. To not have that right is censorship, and once you lose the right to choose, what’s next? More disturbing is how shows like “Big Brother” are justified as fulfilling a TV station’s Australian content requirements. What happened to real Australian shows like “Wildside” and “Phoenix”?

  2. missv

    Big Brother is lazy and mercenary programming. I prefer ‘quality’ TV. However, I have to admit that I find watching the psychology of the relationships in the house fascinating (in a guilty pleasure kind of way).

    There is an interesting article in today’s Age about the different ways ‘the incident’ can be viewed:

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/07/05/1151778943115.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

  3. missv

    Also, remember that this year’s ‘incident’ was never actually shown on TV – only streamed live over the internet.

  4. cherry ripe

    On the matter of ratings, the networks don’t just look at ratings – they look at cost vs ratings. Hence the proliferation of reality TV – no need to pay actors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, special locations etc etc. With that kind of budget you make a profit even with very low ratings – far more than with scripted dramas.

    It’s funny – people are always talking about wanting to see Australian culture on the TV, and thus mourning the lack of good TV drama. However there’s little doubt that reality TV does exactly that!

    I tend to be from the school of thought that says that it’s actually kind of okay to have this stuff on telly – at least it exposes (so to speak) the conduct that we’ve seen in the last week. Everyone’s talking about whether it was inappropriate conduct, whether a sexually offensive act is criminal harassment, and what the role of the men and women in this situation was.

    It’s brilliant, in an ugly sort of way. And those of us who live professional educated lives – and who profess to have many highly academic thoughts about sexual relations and ethics – may learn something about those who just do it.

    I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying it’s been an interesting time for debate on sexual relations, consent, bad taste and assault.

  5. Legal Eagle

    Thanks, missv – I should have mentioned that the conduct was only streamed on the Internet – that is why I think that the incident which happened last year was worse.

    In researching this post, I came across a number of Big Brother obsessed sites where people evidently watched on the Net all the time. This is where I read an account of exactly what happened (I didn’t know what “turkey-slapping” was before then). Obviously there is a demand out there for this stuff!

    As many of the comments have pointed out, at least there has been considerable debate on the rights and wrongs of such conduct as a result of the furore.

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