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 -    NATIONAL  

Shock as columnist investigated for un-American activity

Raising hackles ... Phillip Adams.

Phillip Adams, defender of the rights of man, is in an unexpected spot of bother, Pilita Clark reports.

It sounds too strange to be true.

Warren Beeby, the group editorial manager of News Ltd, publisher of The Australian newspaper, says he can barely believe it himself.

But yesterday he confirmed that one of the paper's better-known columnists, the ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams, is under investigation for alleged racial vilification by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Adams is such a vigorous opponent of racism, discrimination and all manner of oppression that the Prime Minister once famously urged the ABC to find a "right-wing Phillip Adams" to balance its political output.

But Mr Beeby said an American citizen had complained to the commission over a column Adams wrote in October about Australia's "blank cheque" support of the United States's war against terrorism.

In the column, Adams argued that US history was replete with racial violence at home and flawed foreign policy abroad, including the bombing of Cambodia, complicity with the Pinochet regime in Chile and one-time support for Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"If Australia is to be a true friend of the American people, we must try to rein them in, not urge them on," he wrote. "The US has to learn that its worst enemy is the US."

Mr Beeby said the commission wrote to News Ltd in late November asking for a response to a complaint it had received about Adams and the column.

"We're in the process of replying on behalf of the newspaper and Phillip is in the process of thinking what he will say as well," he said.

Mr Beeby first raised the complaint, without naming Adams, in a speech on press freedom to the Commonwealth Press Union earlier this week.

He told the Herald yesterday he found it hard to believe the commission could take such a complaint seriously. "I've never heard of an American being racially vilified before. I think this is one of the great tragedies of our time."

He said it was of deep concern to all Australian media organisations when bodies such as the commission used their powers to stifle debate critical to the public interest, such as Adams's column.

"It was a clinically argued case, whether you agree with it or not, and an important part of the debate about what is going on, and suddenly it's racial vilification of Americans."

A spokeswoman for the commission said it never commented on complaints before it. "All I can say is the normal procedure for complaints is to ask for a response [from those being complained about]. We would then examine the complaint and if it is lacking in substance we would terminate it."

Phillip Adams could not be reached last night.

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