Censorship Update from Down Under

Victory For Irving In Australia Free Speech Struggle

Greg Raven

In an important victory for free speech and open debate on the Holocaust issue, Australia's Federal Court on September 16 unanimously overturned an earlier decision by immigration authorities to reject the visa application of David Irving. Any decision about a visa application by Irving, the high court ruled, must now be reconsidered "by law." There now appears to be no legal bar to visits by the bestselling British revisionist historian, who immediately announced plans for a six-week lecture tour.

The high court also ordered the Australian government to foot the total bill of more than $100,000 in legal costs in the case, including Irving's own legal expenses of $22,000.

In an editorial commenting on the Federal Court decision, the Melbourne Herald Sun (Sept. 18) offered some advice:

The Jewish community vocally opposed his [Irving's] visit. This was a tactical error. It elevated Mr. Irving to martyr status, and ensured a level of publicity he did not merit. The sensible course for Australian Jews now is to ignore him.

Irving thus once again finds himself at the forefront in the free speech struggle against the international campaign to suppress dissident views on the Holocaust issue. "The fight is colossal," says Irving, a Journal contributor. (For more on this, see the Jan.-Feb. 1993 Journal, pp. 12-19.)

"I think my opponents have underestimated the tenacity of the English," says Irving. "We have a tendency in England when we hear gunfire not to move away from it but, out of a sheer sense of bloody-minded curiosity, to go and find out what the gunfire's about ..." (Herald Sun, May 20)

Following Australia's example, New Zealand has recently repealed its own ban on Irving's entry. Officials there still won't let him speak in public, though. "We shall see!," says Irving.

Background

The "fight" began late last year when Irving, planning to combine a six-week lecture tour with attending the wedding of his daughter to an Australian, contacted ten (mostly Jewish) heads of university history departments in an attempt to arrange debates on matters historical. Although not one of those contacted responded to the offer, news of his plans triggered a campaign to bar him from the country. Citing earlier alleged exclusions of him from Austria, Canada, Italy, and South Africa, some legal setbacks in Germany, and the sometimes violent controversy over his works in Britain, Jewish groups argued that this was not an issue of free speech, but rather one of public safety.

Bowing to pressure, Immigration Minister Gerry Hand decided in February to deny Irving's visa application on the grounds that he was "likely to become involved in activities disruptive to, or violence threatening harm to, the Australian community or a group within the Australian community." (For more on this, see the May-June 1993 Journal, pp. 13-16.) As matters turned out, Hand was not entirely incorrect, although the disruption and violence came not from Irving (or his supporters), but from his enemies.

As Australia's leading daily newspapers have plainly acknowledged, efforts to bar Irving from the country have come almost entirely from the Jewish community. Irving has served libel writs against five major Jewish personalities and periodicals.

A Dangerous Man?

By denying Irving a visa, Australian immigration authorities had implied that the internationally renowned researcher, author, and lecturer is as dangerous as four Serbian terrorists -- the only others to be refused entry into Australia in a similar manner out of 1.68 million visa applicants in 1991-92. (Martin Daly, The Age, Feb. 16.)

An editorial in the Newcastle Herald (May 21) made a related point:

A worrying aspect of the ban on Mr. Irving is that it is selective. In 1987, the Foreign Affairs Department brought the then leader-in-exile of the African National Congress, Mr. Oliver Tambo, to Australia for a tour. This was despite the fact that Mr. Tambo's much-publicised visit was expected to polarise opinion, and did. However, there was no violence on that occasion and there would probably have been none if Mr. Irving's opponents and the Federal Government alike had been prepared to let him make his tour without surrounding it with controversy.

Electronic Democracy

Although forced to postpone his tour by one year, Irving's message has been getting through nevertheless. The historian has appeared, via satellite, three times on Australian television during prime time, and has given countless live and recorded radio interviews. Dozens of articles, editorials, and letters to the editor have appeared in newspapers across the country, and letters by Irving clarifying his position have appeared in at least two major newspapers. (The Australian, May 24; Sydney Morning Herald, May 26.)

Generating the most attention, though, has been a specially-made 80-minute videotape cassette, "The Search for Truth in History," in which Irving effectively presents his views on the Holocaust issue and on the international fight for free speech. According to Veritas, Irving's Australian publisher, hundreds of the video were sold within hours of its release in May. "They started buying it late yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon and haven't stopped," reported Veritas manager Jan Pope. (Herald Sun, May 21) Altogether some 10,000 copies have been produced. ("The Search for Truth in History" is available from the IHR.)

All proceeds from sales of the video are earmarked for the David Irving Legal Fighting Fund, which was set up to overturn restrictions on the historian's movements worldwide. (P.O. Box 1707, Key West, FL 33041, USA)

'G' Rated

When Irving's opponents learned of the video, they immediately contacted the Film and Literature Censorship Board (FCB). Any video imported for commercial purposes must have a FCB rating; without a rating it would be illegal to sell or screen the video for profit. Technically, the FCB can legitimately censor a video only if the contents are violent or sexually depraved. Just hours before the first screening was scheduled to start, the FCB issued the video a "G" rating, claiming it is "suitable for viewing by persons of all ages and contains no material that would distress or harm children." Five members of the ten-member Board voted to award the "G" rating, four voted for a "PG" rating, and one voted to ban the video entirely as being "not in the national interest."

The move was applauded by International PEN, a writers' group that earlier supported Irving's right to visit Canada. Likewise supportive was an the Sydney Morning Herald (May 21), which editorialized:

This robust trust by the [Film Censorship] board in the good sense of the public is in the best interests of a workable and useful system of censorship. The point about censorship is that there should be as little of it as is necessary for the well-being of the community. There has been too much censorship by Australian authorities of Mr. Irving's strange views, though. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the Federal Government made a mistake when it decided, just before the last election, to ban Mr. Irving from Australia.

Israeli Snooping?

Interest in the outcome of the FCB vote was not limited to citizens of Australia. Israel's secret intelligence agency Mossad apparently bugged the room in which the FCB had met to discuss the Irving video. In an article headlined "Israeli secret agents linked with bugging," the Sunday Times of Perth (May 30) reported that "allegations of a covert bugging operation organized in Sydney by the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad are being pursued" by the leader of Australia's opposition National Party. "An espionage operation using a highly-sophisticated listening device is alleged to have been discovered" in the building where the FCB met. "There is speculation that the alleged operation is linked to the canceled visit and lecture tour by controversial historian David Irving, who claims Jewish suffering in the Holocaust has been overstated," the paper went on.

Pressure and Threat

Having failed to halt distribution of the new Irving video, Jewish groups next threatened and otherwise pressured the managers of hotels, halls, and theaters where it was scheduled to be shown. As a result, a number of screenings were canceled. In a letter to the Herald Sun (May 25), one reader expressed his disgust at this turn of events:

What a bunch of spineless yellow-bellies have so many Australians become! The slightest threat of protest and virtually the entire management of the proposed venues for the G-rated David Irving "The Search for Truth in History" video presentation, cave in.

At sites where the video was scheduled to show, groups of Jews gathered to protest. David Berinson, 23-year-old spokesman for one such protest, was quoted as saying, "It's clear that this sort of video, though I haven't seen it, and David Irving's statements have formed the basis of a lot of neo-Nazi action in movements in Europe." (West Australian, Perth, May 20) Jewish community leader Mark Leibler commented: "Australia is no place for the peddling of Irving's sick, racist hate propaganda." (Herald Sun, May 25)

Mick Coventry, owner of one establishment where the video was shown, defended his decision to allow the screening: "I don't care what is on the video, as long as it's not illegal." (Riverine Herald, May 26.)

Media Coverage

Australian media coverage of the entire affair has been intense, as noted in the May-June 1993 Journal. Front page headlines in the Shepparton News of May 21 and 23, for example, proclaimed in two-inch-high letters, "'Nazi' video on show," and "Irving ban foiled."

A hostile review of the Irving video in The Australian (Sydney, May 21) by Sam Lipski -- a "media commentator" and publisher of the Australian Jewish News -- carefully avoided any substantive arguments and instead relied on character assassination and misrepresentation to discount Irving's message.

In contrast to media coverage in other Western democracies of similar disputes, most Australian papers have fairly and accurately presented the views of Irving and his supporters. For the most part, the country's press reported that Irving regards the Holocaust story as "exaggerated," "overstated," and "open to debate." Assertions that Irving "denies the Holocaust" come almost exclusively from Jewish sources, which have routinely misrepresented other aspects of the issue.

The Free Speech Debate

Defenders of the orthodox Holocaust extermination story predictably deny that repression of dissident views on this question involves any issue of free speech. Most Australian newspapers sharply disagree, even though none seems to think very highly of Irving.

An editorial in the Perth West Australian (May 20) reflected what might be called a consensus view:

It is one of the measures of a truly democratic system that even those whose views and values are anathema to a majority of people are entitled to a fair hearing. Indeed, the ultimate strength of a democracy rests on its ability to accommodate a free flow of ideas -- even ones which may be repugnant and which may be seen in some quarters as posing a danger to cohesion in the community ... The Federal Government's decision early this year to refuse a visa for an Australian visit by controversial British writer David Irving was an affront to principles of free speech... . [This] action has diminished the rights of all Australians. ... Perversely, by banning Mr. Irving, the Government and those who support the decision have given him an international platform from which to campaign. Canberra's heavy hand has ensured that Mr. Irving's warped material has been disseminated more widely and attracted more publicity than would ever have happened if he had been allowed into Australia this time -- as he has in the past.

Professor Paul Wilson, Dean of Arts at Queens-land University of Technology, wrote in the Canberra Times (May 24):

... Mr. Irving has visited this country on two other occasions and there is no record of violence being perpetrated against the Jewish community as a result of these tours. ... To ban a person on the basis of what might occur as a result of what he might say establishes a dangerous precedent. Such a ruling could be used effectively against any international visitor wishing to enter this country who has opinions that conflict with the views of any religion, ethnic, political or special-interest group. ... The ultimate irony is that if David Irving is banned from our shores he can justifiably claim (as he already has) that free speech is threatened in Australia.

An editorial in the Canberra Times (May 20) opined:

The Commonwealth film censor has shown considerably better judgment in classifying British historian David Irving's video so that it can be shown publicly, than the Government showed in February by banning the man from Australia. ... Instead of attracting a small amount of critical press attention for his views, the ban has generated a public debate about his right to free speech. He has attracted respectable defenders (of his right of free speech, not of his history) who otherwise never would have allowed their names to be associated with his. As is so often the case, if the Government had simply let events take their course his views would have been more than adequately exposed by the light of public debate.

The Melbourne Herald Sun (editorial, May 21) expressed a similar view, but upset a few readers with a reference to "that article of faith for post-war Jews, the Holocaust":

The David Irving affair is an assault on our basic democratic right -- freedom of speech. This newspaper holds no brief for Mr. Irving, a historian with widely contested, controversial views. But we believe that he has an absolute right to express them. Just as the many people who fiercely oppose him have an equal right to publicly disagree. As we said in this column in February, the Federal Government was wrong to refuse Mr. Irving entry. We also believe Australian Jews have been mistaken in seeking to stop screening of a video of his lecture, passed by the Office of Film and Literature. Central to Mr. Irving's unpopularity is his challenge to that article of faith for post-war Jews, the Holocaust.... But by campaigning to silence Mr. Irving, Australian Jews have succeeded in focusing unmerited public attention both on the man and his claims.

Side Issues

In the media discussion surrounding Irving's efforts to visit Australia, marginal side issues have sometimes obscured the larger picture. Irving's opponents, for example, have accused him of supporting Australian far right groups, of provoking outbursts of anti-Jewish graffiti, and of erring as an historian. In this last instance, one paper went so far as to claim that Irving was wrong in his views about Winston Churchill, and cited revisionist historian John Charmley's critical book on Churchill as proof. (For more about Charmley's highly critical biography of the British leader, see the March-April Journal.)

As part of the general debate provoked by the Irving ban, critical attention has been given to the issue of improper Jewish influence on the Australian government, the totalitarian tactics of those who would deny Irving the right to enter Australia, the pointless wastefulness of war crimes trials over allegations dating back to the Second World War, and the precious nature of free speech.

Another Victory

As Irving has pointed out, and as the recent events in Australia underscore, each new effort to censor or ban revisionists has ultimately proven to be another boost for the revisionist cause. Clearly, it is becoming ever more difficult for those who seek to monopolize history to rely on help from venal and repressive government officials. With active support from the growing worldwide revisionist community, each attempt at censorship provides yet another opportunity to broadcast the revisionist viewpoint to additional thousands who otherwise would never hear of it.


From The Journal of Historical Review, November/December 1993 (Vol. 13, No. 6), pages 12-16.