Free speech versus hate speech: Part two

Continued from part one.

The idea of hate speech has existed in New Zealand since at least 2000 when the term was used
during a legal action against the New Zealand distributors of two American videos that a gay-rights group alleged?were homophobic. Quote.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the videos as objectionable, thus making it a criminal offence to show them or even own them ? a decision eventually overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The board subsequently reversed its ban on the videos, but called for law changes to prohibit ?hate propaganda? ? a call taken up, unsuccessfully, in submissions by the Office of Film and Literature Classification to a parliamentary select committee in 2004.

Internationally, the concept of hate speech has a longer history. Spoonley says the term was coined by American legal scholars in the late 1980s.

Definitions vary. The Council of Europe says hate speech covers ?all forms of expressions that spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance?.

Facebook, which recently adopted stricter controls on what users can post online, uses more specific criteria. Its policy targets direct attacks on people?s ?protected characteristics? such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, serious disability or disease.

That list gives a clue to why hate speech has become a bigger issue now than it was, say, 10 years ago. As Western societies diversify, and as a widening range of minority groups agitate for protection against discrimination, opinions that are seen as oppressive or harmful are coming under more critical scrutiny. end quote.

Hate speech has no commonly agreed upon definition and is completely open to interpretation. Martin Cocker the chief executive of Netsafe has a definition that is very broad. Quote

[…] Netsafe is the independent agency that deals with complaints under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed in 2015. Cocker says the Act is more about cyberbullying than hate speech[…]

To be classified as harmful, a digital communication must cause serious emotional distress to an individual, Cocker says. ?The real question is, at what point do you call it hate speech that needs intervention? At what point do we draw the line, and how do we balance it against freedom of expression? It?s a very tricky exercise.? End quote.

Again the key problem is defining what exactly so-called hate speech is and I have to wonder why it needs to be defined at all. Why can’t we keep speech free and only act when speech breaks the law? We already have clear laws on incitement. Saying something that hurts someone else’s?feelings should never be a criminal act.

[…] It was InternetNZ that organised the ?Hate and the Internet? forum. Carter says he came away from that with a clearer understanding of what hate speech is. ?It?s not annoying speech or insulting speech. It didn?t feel to me like it?s a case of, ?You?re saying mean things to me, so that?s hate speech.??

So what is it then? The article fails to clearly define it despite interviewing a number of different experts.

[…] Most speakers at that forum framed the issue in the context of verbal attacks on women and ethnic minorities, and most argued implicitly that some boundaries had to be placed around free speech.

M?ori broadcaster and te reo promoter Stacey Morrison said freedom of speech was not under threat, but qualified that by saying it would be best if that freedom was based in fairness ? ?that is, freedom for all and not just a select few?.

?In the context of our history, we should consider who has most often enjoyed freedom of speech and whose freedom of speech has most often been suppressed or neglected.?

Morrison mainly addressed the issue in terms of race, saying that only people who were the targets of racism could define what racist speech was. ?They are most often the voices of the suppressed and neglected.? End of quote.

This is an example of a person saying one thing and meaning completely the opposite. Freedom of speech is under threat and it is because people like Stacey Morrison think that some people are more equal than others. Essentially Morrison is saying that Pakeha should not have a say about what hate speech is because they do not know what it is like to be suppressed and neglected. Quote.

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman, an Iranian-born former refugee, recalled being targeted with an ?incredible onslaught of hate? during last year?s election campaign. This didn?t surprise people of colour whom she knew, but it did shock her P?keh??friends and colleagues.End quote.

Golriz was targeted because of her lies and her stupidity, neither of which had anything to do with her race. As a politician, she said ridiculous things so she got push back. Calling that pushback hate is a step too far and shows her inability to own her own words. All too often people like Golriz use so-called hate speech as a way to avoid a debate about the real issues. It is easier to frame themselves as a victim than it is to answer the hard questions being put to them.


To be continued…


This article was first published in the?July 21, 2018?issue of the New Zealand Listener.