Free speech, dog whistles & ‘Peace action’ groups

Dr David Cumin
Free Speech Coalition

This week, Phantom Billstickers, a billboard company with 6,500 poster frames visible to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, decided to take down all copies of this poster:

The posters were purchased by Speak Up For Women, a group calling for consultation on a law that would allow individuals to change the sex recorded on their birth certificate at will.

The group reports, despite the posters having no obviously offensive content, Phantom Billstickers cancelled the contract after ?four or five? complaints alleged a ?dog whistle? anti-transgender message.

Phantom Billstickers is a private company, and it has the right not to host certain types of speech. But the fact that a prominent media company is buckling to complaints made on the basis of political opinion is a concern.

It is especially concerning because the company pays councils to use publicly-owned spaces.

Phantom Billstickers clearly does not subscribe to the same free speech values held by other media. We have publicly called on companies supportive of free speech principles to consider advertising with a different company and for the Human Rights Commission to take a stand for free speech.

The Jordan Peterson connection

Meanwhile, Phantom Billstickers is happy to display these:

Poster one

Poster two

These posters were ordered by T?maki Anti Fascist Action, apparently targeting the reputation of Dr Jordan Peterson, an author and speaker about to visit New Zealand.

This is the same group that led the campaign to block appearances of Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, and had planned to drown out their speech using a ‘noise demonstration’ outside the venue (before the event was cancelled). They used similar tactics outside the venue of Nigel Farage’s speech in September.

Meanwhile, T?maki Anti Fascist Action’s campaign against Dr Peterson has been supported by Auckland and Wellington Peace Action, who went as far as claiming “Jordan Peterson threatens everything of value in our society”. If you’re interested in the specifics of this debate, we highly recommend having a listen to Sean Plunket interviewing Auckland Peace Action’s spokesperson. The subsequent interview with Dr Peterson himself is here.

The Free Speech Coalition is closely following the involvement of the ‘Peace Action’ groups in particular. Last October, these groups interrupted a Wellington screening of a documentary about Israel’s first Prime Minister with ‘noise-makers’ including a bleeping black box, which some audience members perceived to be a bomb.

These groups have every right to protest controversial speakers — and should this right be threatened, the Free Speech Coalition will defend them. But, literally trying to drown out controversial speakers with ‘noise’, or threatening events with violence, is not free speech — it is censorship and should be condemned.

The good news for free speech

So far, there is no indication of any attempts from these groups to block the speech rights of Dr Jordan Peterson, whose first event is on Monday in Auckland.

We hope this is a result of these groups learning from the backlash against their extreme anti-speech tactics. Needless to say, we will be watching closely to ensure Dr Peterson’s events in the coming week are able to proceed peacefully.

If you are aware of any individual or group planning to exercise a “thug’s veto” against Dr Peterson, please contact us (and, if appropriate, the Police).