Politicians have really thick skins. They have to. They are subject to all sorts of criticism. Not only that they are often  symbols of fun. Caricatures of them are drawn that over emphasise parts of their bodies. Hence John Howard is often drawn as a short man with rubber lips and hugely bushy eyebrows. These caricatures are shown at will in the media. Insults are hurled at politicians left right and centre. Alexander Downer, the former stocking wearing leader of the opposition, once described current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a, “..cynical, immodest, mealy-mouthed, duplicitous, a boy in a bubble, a foreign policy imposter and unfit to lead the nation. ”  Ex Prime Minister Paul Keating was the master of the insult – He described ex Liberal leader John Hewson as, “…a shiver without a spine.” The vile ex leader of the Labor Party and aspiring Prime Minister that thankfully never was, Mark Latham, famously called the Liberal front bench, ” .. a conga line of suck-holes.”

When politicians are not insulting themselves they are being insulted by the media  or the public. The unfortunate George Bush is a particular  target of fun. He does not help himself by uttering gems of wisdom like , ” … Is it ok if I call you buddy – that means friends.” Popular American talk show host, Jay Leno, had this to say about Bush,    “..George Bush has the lowest heartbeat ever recorded by someone in the White House. Well, second lowest. Dick Cheney got his down to zero a couple of times.” Political satirist, Michael Moore, was no less scathing. Take this example,  “I personally hold Blair more responsible for this war than I do George Bush. The reason is, Blair knows better, Blair is not an idiot. What is he doing hanging around this guy?” OUCH!

Bush is portrayed as the ultimate buffoon. There are pictures all over the Internet showing him in a number of amusing situations.  He was once pictured reading a book upside down to a group of children. Who could ever forget the classic picture of him looking through binoculars with the lens caps still on. Whether the picture is genuine or not is of no consequence we are left in no doubt as to the opinion of Bush’s intelligence.

I write this because it has come to my attention that certain people have tried on a number of occasions to censor The Rebuttal. I personally know of approaches to people, who have then approached me and asked me to tone things down. Said one person to me recently – “.. Do you have to make it so obvious who you’re talking about?” We are a precious lot in the Deafness sector it seems. If something strikes us as being untoward we have to keep it to ourselves and not rock the boat. Criticize leaders in he Deafness sector? – GOD FORBID!

The Rebuttal was established primarily because it was felt that that certain people in the Deafness sector did not listen or take complaints seriously. It was felt that complaints and criticism of direction or policy were often fobbed off and kept behind closed doors.  Writing about these issues in a Public Forum like The Rebuttal is a legitimate way of bringing attention to the issues. Important concerns such as provision of services, appropriate use of funds, portrayal of deafness in fund-raising or the lack of leadership opportunities afforded to deaf people in the sector were all issues of importance that are generally kept firmly behind closed doors. The Rebuttal wanted to bring these issues to the surface, create debate and more importantly provide a voice to people that had been largely ignored and patronised.

It is not an easy thing to do.  Dean, one of our editors, often says that we cop other peoples bullets. He has a point because leaders in the Deafness sector actually feed us information about things that they are not happy about hoping that we will write about them.  We  have been fed minutes of meetings pointing out untoward issues. We have been fed emails showing what certain people are saying. We try to encourage these leaders, deaf and hearing, to write about their concerns themselves. For one reason or other they nearly always decline. WHY IS THIS SO? What do they have to fear?

For one thing they fear being sued. We know that certain people have threatened legal action for things that have been written by The Rebuttal and others. Gagging by way of threats like this is more common than one might think. Deaf Australia once had a popular discussion page where people often wrote of their concerns. Sometimes humour and satire were used on these discussion pages. A series of biting poems centering around the actions of one of the Deaf sector leaders eventually saw the page closed and made for members only. Why this happened we will never really know, suffice to say that free speech is not something that is encouraged.

Yesterday, Saturday February 13th 2010,  saw the Deaf community protesting , nationwide, about the lack of captioned cinema in Australia. This campaign was in direct opposition to the views of many of our Deafness sector organisations and leaders. The catalyst to this campaign was the Cinema Industry’s application for exemption to complaints under the DDA. Our Deafness sector peak bodies representing us on the issue wanted to support the application. They felt that some progress towards captioning in the Cinema was better than none at all.

But the Deaf community did not agree. They felt the Cinema Industry’s proposal was an insult that failed to recognise their rights and their marketing power. As they spoke out there were efforts to shut them down. Emails were sent to certain people asking them to butt out. The Rebuttal received an email that showed one of the bosses of these organisations felt the Deaf community’s opposition to the Cinema Industry’s application was directly because, “.. they don’t like me or us” ( I kid you not)  These organisations are supposed to be OUR voice, yet when we all spoke out they attempted to shut us up. THIS IS WRONG!

Thankfully the campaign did not falter and it led to yesterdays protests outside Cinemas across Australia. It is noteworthy that the campaign eventually received the backing of our representative organisations. They had to backdown in the face of the overwhelming tide of opinion. This is why people MUST speak out.

Speaking out is sometimes all that we can do. The Rebuttal is sometimes guilty of sensationalism. This is because we want to draw attention to issues. We sometimes use humor, sometimes emotion and often satire. We do this to trigger a response. BUT there needs to be more voices, strong voices, that are willing to stand up when they feel that our representative organisations are wrong. The Cinema Campaign is an excellent example of this. More importantly these voices need to be raised without fear of reprisals and threats of legal action. We ask of our Deafness sector organisations – DO YOU HEAR US?!