Dompost article on free speech

Rob Mitchell from the Dominion Post contacted me this past week to ask my thoughts on free speech for an article he was writing. He sent me some questions and I replied. He has printed what I replied pretty much as I said it.

But first his preamble: Quote:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

So says the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

But according to section 61 of the Human Rights Act 1993, it is unlawful to publish or distribute “threatening, abusive, or insulting . . . matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons . . . on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national or ethnic origins of that group of persons”.

So on one hand you have the right to say or do practically anything you want to, but on the other, it is potentially against the law.

Clear as mud. Or maybe fog. The fog of an apparent cultural war in which truth can be lost and stable, common ground difficult to find.

That ground shifted again this week when Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas banned former Reserve Bank governor and National Party leader Don Brash from speaking on her Palmerston North campus.

She was concerned about the security of her staff and students in the aftermath of the divisive comments?of Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. She was worried about the potential for hate speech and its impacts on a diverse campus.

But the reality is that, like all others, Thomas is herself on shaky ground when declaring something hate speech.

It is not a specific crime in this country, with just the odd reference in a loose arrangement of laws, including the Official Information, Race Relations, Crimes and Harmful Digital Communication acts.?The closest we get is the human rights legislation quoted above.

Last year the Human Rights Commission received?525 inquiries and complaints on race-related grounds, but it has no power to prosecute, preferring instead to mediate.

The courts cannot help us much either. Legal precedent is almost?non-existent in setting the boundaries of what could be called hate speech, with just one prosecution:?far-Right activist Colin King-Ansell, who was sentenced in 1979 to three months in prison for distributing a pamphlet attacking?Jews. He appealed and ended up paying a $400 fine.

Manurewa MP?Louisa Wall tested those boundaries again last year. She took Fairfax Media (now?Stuff) to the Human Rights Review Tribunal over the publication of two cartoons she believed?portrayed M?ori and Pasifika people as “welfare bludgers and poor parents who were preoccupied with smoking, drinking and gambling”.

The tribunal upheld Fairfax’s right to publish the cartoons, as did the High Court. Wall is now looking at changes to legislation that would emphasise a “duty of care” alongside freedom of speech and expression.

All this means that, until those laws are changed or tested further in our courts, free speech and its hateful equivalent will continue to be framed by national conversation, the boundaries set, bashed down and reset by debate.

As part of that process, and in the quest for a little clarity, we approached a number of prominent Kiwis with some experience of free speech issues. They represent different sides of the debate.

We asked them for their thoughts on these?key questions:

  • Is free speech the right to say anything you like?
  • Is there any point at which something is too offensive to be said in public?
  • Is there such a thing as “hate speech” and how should it be defined?
  • Is free speech under threat in this country? If so, where is the threat coming from??End quote.

My answer was: Quote:

Free speech is the right to say anything you like, although there are of course legislative limits in place, such as defamation laws; there are clear processes within the law which anyone speaking freely must take into account so that what they say is true or honestly held.

People must also not use free speech to cause actual harm to anyone, like inciting suicide or causing hostile actions against other people. There are clear legislative remedies for these occurrences.

However, where possible free speech should be respected. Unfortunately, too many people take offence too easily and they take their chances in court and at a cost.

Hurt feelings are not grounds for harm. Mostly they need a good cup of concrete to help them harden up.

How could hate speech ever be defined when in common law we have the concept of mens rea, a guilty mind. It would be almost impossible for law-makers to write a law that is fair and balanced and takes into account some method of establishing “hate” from within someone.

We live in a democracy; all speech at some point or another might necessarily annoy or inflame someone. For instance, socialists advocating and marching in the streets demanding higher taxes against rich people, or a more contemporary version of speech common amongst ?many of labelling people “stale, pale and male”. Clearly an insult based on race, or skin colour, age, and against males.

It seems it is acceptable amongst many younger people to hurl these types of abuse then whinge like unpaid hookers when someone decides to oppose those views.

Free speech is under threat in this country. The threat comes from a lack of action standing up to those who would threaten it. For too long there have been cases of bullying people out of jobs, threatening their income, boycotting advertisers and deplatforming of speakers.

Almost exclusively these actions come from within the angry Left-wing. We have in recent years witnessed the demonisation of John Tamihere and Willie Jackson for daring to ask hard questions on radio, the hounding of Paul Henry out of television, the attacks on me by Nicky Hager, the media and the Left-wing for daring to be effective and challenging, the cancellation of speakers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, not to mention the recent attack against Don Brash.

The media by and large have forgotten their responsibilities to be truth-tellers and have in many cases joined in the witch-hunting. End quote.

As you can see I had a good lash at the media and was pleasantly surprised to see they printed it.