How do you like your Freedom of Speech cooked?

David Bullard wonders if we're being served up with the real thing in SA

The national dish of the Languedoc region of France is cassoulet. It's a dish that is difficult to avoid in local restaurants as I discovered when I spent some time on holiday there a few weeks ago. But there are cassoulets and there are cassoulets.

The traditional dish is made from haricot beans from Pamiers and Cazères, goose leg (or duck), goose fat, pork hock, Toulouse sausage, bacon rind, vegetables and seasoning and it should be cooked for several hours in an earthenware pot after a long period of preparation.

Some versions have a sprinkling of bread crumbs which form an attractive golden crust. According to Larousse Gastronomique, purists insist that the gratin crust should be broken several times before serving (seven times in Castelnaudry and eight times in Toulouse). I ate six cassoulets in ten days in the Languedoc and no two were alike.

The best was in Castelnaudry but at least two were sham tourist cassoulets which were little more than overseasoned boiled haricot beans with a duck leg and a sausage added for effect. The other three were poor imitations of the Castelnaudry best of breed. They looked authentic enough but having tasted the real thing I could dismiss them as frauds.

It's rather like freedom of speech in this country. The version offered up by our local media looks genuine enough but is it the real thing? If I had only tasted the sham tourist cassoulet I would obviously be convinced that this was how a cassoulet should be made and served. But because I took the trouble to conduct an empirical study of cassoulet I'm pretty certain I can spot an imposter.

I've been a freedom of speech gourmet off and on now for about 45 years and Iike to think I've become something of a connoisseur. For example, if you genuinely respect the concept of freedom of speech it has to be unconditional. You have to put up with the good and the bad. Freedom of speech will, on occasions, be offensive to somebody but that's the flip side of the freedom coin.

Do you ban anything that could possibly be offensive on the off chance that some over sensitive soul will get upset or do you give the green light to freedom of speech but apply sensible and reasonable legal restraints?

I should have thought that hate speech was easy enough to spot because of its extremity but these days even the most innocuous remark can be blown out of all proportion by the frenzied mob on social media and labelled hate speech. In a sensible society the frenzied mob would be given a smack on the head and told to grow up but the fear of being labelled politically incorrect generally means that mob rule wins the day and freedom of speech suffers.

In South Africa we espouse selective freedom of speech. Strident white voices, usually those laying claim to some dubious struggle credentials, constantly shout down opinions they dislike. It's yob culture at its best. The most obvious example is the widespread use of the word racist in an attempt to vilify anybody who has the cheek to suggest that the ANC is in some way failing in its task of running the country. But cries of misogynist and sexist are becoming increasingly common and also serve to kill debate.

The aim of the loony left is to assiduously avoid any discussion or intelligent conversation lest it should expose them as the ignorant charlatans they are. It's telling that many of our editors and senior journalists refuse invitations to debate the issue of freedom of speech.

What do they have to lose? If they really have the courage of their convictions surely they will emerge victorious. Refusal to publicly debate serious issues should not be an option for anybody claiming to be a journalist. Unless they have something to hide?

There is a growing public perception that the editors of our newspapers have become drunk with power over the years and now decide between them what we are allowed to read. This may be only partially true but there is definitely a Cabal of editors who have worked with each other in the past and seem to have agreed amongst themselves which voices to ban from their newspapers.

There are clearly puppet masters controlling these decisions which makes one wonder whether all those investigative journalism "scoops" haven't been cleared with someone within the ruling party before they make the front page.

This would serve the needs of the ANC very well in that it would give the appearance of a free press while helping to remove those who have fallen out of favour with the ANC. The obvious thing to do would be to ask one of the Cabal editors whether there is any truth in this but they refuse to answer any questions. They may use and abuse their newspapers to put all sorts of other people under scrutiny but they definitely don't like it when it's them under the microscope.

In a healthy democracy the media shouldn't be hunting as a pack. The varied political views of the UK papers mean that journalists take aim at other journalists, on occasion within the same publication. That's seen as healthy and, as we have seen with the Leveson inquiry, even a mighty editor like Rebekah Brooks is not above the law and can be arrested.

It's rather different here. An editor who offered a "banned" writer space in his newspaper was threatened with violence and any evidence of wrongdoing among senior members of the media is covered up and definitely won't make it onto the pages of a newspaper. Editors and senior journalists consider themselves above the law. And at the moment it appears they are.

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