Freedom of Speech but only on Our Terms

Freedom-of-Speech-but-only-on-Our-Terms

Copyright is a key legal principle that allows the creative amongst us to defend the ownership of our creative endeavours. Countries that are weak on copyright are usually also weak on creativity and weak on defending freedoms such as the freedom of speech, so it was with great surprise that WAFarmers received a letter from the Pastoralists and Graziers Association last week that called copyright on a recording of the ABC country hour debate between PGA President Tony Seabrook and WA Farmers President Rhys Turton.

The letter demanded that the recording which is posted in the podcast section of the WAFarmers web site be removed as it infringed on the copyright of their President as no permission had been given to rebroadcast the debate by the PGA. Now this is an astounding letter as it comes from the bastion of market freedom, an agri-political body that has built its reputation on taking the debate over free market reforms and opening up the market to all and sundry.

For the PGA to come out and demand that a publicly broadcasted debate on the ABC Country Hour about the future of agricultural representation in the state be removed says much about how the PGA must be feeling about the pressure they are under. We felt that the debate, moderated by Country Hour host Belinda Varischetti, presented a solid case for a single representative rural voice and that the broadcast deserved to be made available for those who missed it. In fact we were keen to run a second debate, but unfortunately it was never taken up.

In turn the PGA President, who is respected as a formidable debater and never shy of an opportunity to shine on the wireless, in this particular debate probably did not shine at his finest. But for the PGA staff to want to remove the debate from public access by claiming copyright breach, is nothing more than censorship: running away from the open competition of ideas in the market place and denying farmers – members and non-members alike – an opportunity to make careful consideration of the important options that lie before them. Interesting to note that the broadcast was also publicly available on the ABC website, which raises the question why the PGA’s bush lawyers have not slapped the ABC with a similar copyright breach?

Maybe the PGAs enthusiasm for censorship has been unduly influenced by some of the mining magnates and cattle barons who have a habit of reaching for the lawyers each time something does not go their way. But this is not really how we settle differences in the bush. Much better to go to the pub and talk about it which is why we are inviting members of both WAfarmers and PGA as well as non members of both organisations to join us on our pub visits around the state to talk about the One Voice and APC options.

Many of the key issues were covered in the radio debate so it is worth re-listening to it to hear the differing perspectives as Vareschetti did an impressive job in holding both presidents to account and allowing both voices to be fairly heard.

As for the request by the PGA to play the copyright card, we would hope that they return to their values and stand by freedom of speech, as we all know that while Tony Seabrook is a unique asset to the PGA, it is unlikely that his words of wisdom on this particular recording are of such great value that they need copyright protection. And as a champion of competition and the freemarket he should be prepared to let the debate remain free to air on our website, as it is on the ABC’s.

In the meantime we urged the PGA membership to attend the pub visits WAFarmers were running and for Tony Seabrook to agree to join Rhys Turton on a second debate following the release of the outcome of the poll to talk constructively about where to from here.

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