Dom Post on free speech

September 5th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

But the new administration should think hard about another part of the convention. One protocol therein requires signatories to make the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material via computer systems a crime. It might also outlaw Holocaust denial and what some groups, deeming themselves to be persecuted, call “hate speech” online. The United States, the UK and Ireland have refused to sign that protocol. New Zealand should, too.

When states consciously choose to ban the traffic in ideas, they take a giant stride toward control of their populace. Freedom of speech – one of the pillars that buttress democracy – is its most potent when its practitioners advocate the unpopular, the unconventional, even the downright nasty.

Informed public debate, which of necessity includes ridicule and derision, is always the most effective antidote to racism, sexism, xenophobia … Banning criticism – as this protocol would do, at least in cyberspace – merely drives racists, sexists, xenophobes underground and gives them cause to claim martyrdom.

I blogged on this issue a couple of weeks ago. The answer to offensive speech is not to ban it, but to counter it.

It is timely to repeat a quote from Noam Chomsky:

If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.

One of the few Chomsky quotes I love.

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32 Responses to “Dom Post on free speech”

  1. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    Ah, I’ve been looking for that quote.

    I’ve been reading an interesting book about Nazi Germany and how they implemented controls over all parts of German life. One way was through banning “hate speech”. The author points out that cases were decided by a panel of 5 judges, 3 of which were appointed by Hitler since, you know, he had the best idea about how the rabble were trying to destroy the state.

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  2. Daigotsu (456 comments) says:

    I fucking hate that I find myself agreeing with a cunt-swipe like Chomsky, but yeah

    Although I admit I sometimes fantasise about a hate speech law that would get racists like John Hatfield thrown in jail with a burly skinhead cellmate.

    [DPF: 40 demerits for cunt]

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  3. kowtow (8,428 comments) says:

    I looked at the Human Rights Act on foot of Murray’s recommendation concerning Mutu’s comments.

    I note with fear and trepidation that discrimination extends to “insulting”. Have a look.
    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1993/0082/latest/DLM304643.html

    I reckon it’s only a matter of time.
    Quite a few cases have been taken in jurisdictions similar to ours. Canada, Australia and the UK under similar laws. The victims tend to be conservative commentators and the aggrieved parties Muslims. Nothing to do with the Holocaust.

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  4. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    Did I misunderstand your previous blog David? – I thought you were then advocating banning certain kinds of speech?

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  5. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    I have always thought that freedom of speech should extend to the right to offend people. Of course with that right comes the responsibility to deal with the flack that comes with offending some people/groups.

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  6. Mark Thomson (81 comments) says:

    @kowtow, thanks for posting. That’s pretty frightening.

    @dpfdpf, completely agree. http://bit.ly/pfBf1k

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  7. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    gazzmaniac: 100%. You have the freedom to offend, and they have the freedom to shun you as a human being.

    Hence while we have the freedom, people should be sensible enough to understand why we don’t just go around abusing each other constantly.

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  8. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    scrubone
    Exactly. That’s why I could never understand why NZ newspapers wanted to publish the Prophet Mohammed cartoons – no one doubted their right to publish, but it gave gratuitous offence.

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  9. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    mikenmild

    If the humourless, anal retentive Muslims had shut up about the cartoons no one outside a few Danish newspaper readers would have known of the cartoons existence. It was an own goal by the followers of the prophet. As soon as they started nutting off everyone wanted to know what they were on about.

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  10. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    mikenmild: the issue that lead to the production of the cartoons was Muslim intimidation.

    I do not care for the delicate sensibilities of bullies.

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  11. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    The muslims (and it wasn’t all muslims, probably only the select few idiots like we have greenies here) absolutely had the right to express their opinion. They also have to realise that one of the consequences of expressing their opinion the way they did would be that the cartoons got a lot more coverage than they would have otherwise, including the republication of the images in question.

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  12. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    nasska/scrubone
    I could accept some of that, except the cartoons were created to be deliberately provocative, many newspapers around the world seemed perfectly able to report on the story without reproducing the images, and the Dominion Post (at least) explicitly linked its publication to a right of free speech.

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  13. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    mikenmild

    The rabid Muslims were trying to intimidate the native citizens of their adopted country into accepting things their way as is the wont of the intolerant followers of the merciful prophet. Western cartoonists don’t like this sort of action & one of them produces a cartoon. If the Dominion Post didn’t print the cartoon (which was piss poor anyway) I still wouldn’t know what everyone was banging on about.

    My right to be informed trumps the paper thin sensitivities of a pack of Allah botherers, especially since they were instrumental in having the cartoon drawn.

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  14. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    nasska
    Not quite how it happened. After an article in a Danish newspaper about a writer’s difficulty in finding an illustrator for a children’s book about Muhammad, the Jyllands-Posten sought cartoons of Muhammad. Had it been a case of an artist depicting Muhammad to make a political or literary point (in the same manner as Salman Rushdie in ‘The Satanic Verses’) the publication might have been more defensible. In the event, it was just a device to provoke controversy.
    This was why I mentioned this incident in agreeing with scrubone’s comment – there is freedom to offend, but there is also good taste and often good reason to exercise restraint.

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  15. backster (2,171 comments) says:

    The answer to offensive speech is not to ban it, but to counter it.

    The difficulty arises when the racial abuse is from a taxation resourced academic racist and the taxation resourced institution condones by their silence. By implication she speaks for them.

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  16. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    mikenmild

    My comment stands. I can see no reason why we should have to walk on eggshells in case the followers of some primitive religion take offense. Our home grown Christians put up with a bit of ribbing & I see no reason to tip toe around any religion.

    You could be on firmer ground if the subject of the cartoon was ethnicity or disability but religion or the lack of it is a free choice within mankind & needs no special protection or restraint.

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  17. Scott Chris (6,133 comments) says:

    I have a lot of respect for Chomsky’s ideas on education, less so his preference for libertarian socialism, which doesn’t make sense to me. There is certainly a lot one can learn from him. This appeals to me:

    “Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.”

    A little anarchic, and incompatible with a capitalist job market, but certainly complies with the ideal of nurturing personal liberty.

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  18. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    nasska
    I can see your point, for sure, but don’t entirely agree with it. Sure, Christianity is a fairly easy target. I recall the ‘Virgin in a condom’ hoo-haa at Te Papa. For me, the test is whether an artist or writer is trying to make a point, or just being offensive. I’m not saying that we should do anything different in response, ie, restrict that freedom of speech. We can’t legislate for good taste.

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  19. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    Not quite how it happened. After an article in a Danish newspaper about a writer’s difficulty in finding an illustrator for a children’s book about Muhammad, the Jyllands-Posten sought cartoons of Muhammad. Had it been a case of an artist depicting Muhammad to make a political or literary point (in the same manner as Salman Rushdie in ‘The Satanic Verses’) the publication might have been more defensible. In the event, it was just a device to provoke controversy.

    But the controversy was *really* generated when 3 fake cartoons were circulated throughout the Arab world, months after the original publication. In that sense, publication of the real ones was even more important.

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  20. Scott Chris (6,133 comments) says:

    Nasska – I agree that tactlessness shouldn’t be outlawed. Malicious defamation, on the other hand requires legislation which clearly defines and quantifies slanderous harm so that adequate compensation can be sought.

    Mikenmild – regarding the Madonna in a condom, it was quite a thought provoking piece in my opinion, as the irony and ambiguity of the sheath’s protection also had critical political overtones. Those who were offended by it may have assumed that the intention was to insult them, but I doubt this was the case. The argument that the piece was sacrilegious was invalid, as the Madonna is not officially a sacred object. In terms of composition, the piece was reminiscent of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa:

    http://www.boglewood.com/cornaro/xteresafull.jpg

    In terms of my taste in art, the piece was a lazy, and lacked virtuosity and was sensationalist and trite.

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  21. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    Scott Chris

    Since the subject of the cartoons was a god or a depiction of a god & thus a religion it wouldn’t be possible to sue for malicious defamation in any case. It would be pushing your luck to find a court outside of Mecca or the Vatican which would hear a case of slanderous harm involving artwork depicting an abstraction of someone’s imaginary friend.

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  22. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    # mikenmild (2,299) Says:
    September 5th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    nasska
    I can see your point, for sure, but don’t entirely agree with it. Sure, Christianity is a fairly easy target. I recall the ‘Virgin in a condom’ hoo-haa at Te Papa. For me, the test is whether an artist or writer is trying to make a point, or just being offensive. I’m not saying that we should do anything different in response, ie, restrict that freedom of speech. We can’t legislate for good taste.

    ————————————————-

    But being offensive is, in itself, making a point. I’m not sure I can imagine someone being offensive without there being a point to it. Indeed, the most offensive material usually has the biggest point to make. Perhaps what you mean is that you consider such points not worth making? This is subjective of course just as whether the material itself is offensive is also subjective.

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  23. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Weihana
    I think there is a line between material that makes a point even if it is being offensive and material that is pointlessly offensive. That’s a subjective opinion and it doesn’t mean that free speech should be restricted because it might offend.

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  24. wat dabney (3,756 comments) says:

    to make the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material via computer systems a crime.

    So proponents of Maori seats will be guilty of a crime if they discuss it on line?

    That fake “Professor” from Auckland University will be guilty of a crime for publishing her schoolgirl idea about limiting white immigration?

    Let’s not be too hasty to dismiss this…

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  25. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    mikenmild – I note you’re not suggesting speech be restricted and I certainly respect that.

    But seriously I’m not sure I can imagine material being “pointlessly offensive”. “Pointless” and “offensive” are not direct opposites but they seem almost like it to me. Imagine saying something pointless.. for instance, I could say “I just knocked my drink off the table”. Pretty pointless speech. No one cares and it doesn’t really affect anyone. But then imagine saying something really offensive. Immediately what comes to mind are things like Danish Cartoons, Virgin in the Condom. Yet these issues were far from pointless and underlying the controversy was ideas of freedom of speech and a clash of cultures, issues that could hardly be more significant and which few people would consider “pointless”.

    It seems to me that there is an inverse relationship where the more offensive something is the more significant the idea being communicated. Indeed why would a person take offense unless the idea itself was of huge significance and importance?

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  26. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    Regardless of how offensive something may be, if you are not allowed to say it there is no such thing as free speech.

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  27. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Weihana
    Barging into a church in the middle of a funeral to proclaim there is no God would be an example of being pointlessly offensive, particularly if it were done for no reason, or as a piece of ‘performance art’. There are plenty of mindless people out there quite happy to cause offence without having the slightest reason for doing so.

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  28. tristanb (1,127 comments) says:

    Barging into a church in the middle of a funeral to proclaim there is no God would be an example of being pointlessly offensive, particularly if it were done for no reason, or as a piece of ‘performance art’. There are plenty of mindless people out there quite happy to cause offence without having the slightest reason for doing so.

    Those people are called cunts. But (as I’m sure you agree) it’s not illegal and shouldn’t be so.

    I’d hate to live in a world where we couldn’t be Mohammed drawing, Koran burning, Christ pissing, and Madonna condoming arseholes if we chose. If you’re offended by those things then you need to harden up and learn not take things so personally.

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  29. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    tristanb
    I was just giving an example of pointless offensive behaviour., Refraining from such is just good taste and good manners, but we can’t (and shouldn’t) legislate for that.

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  30. Scott Chris (6,133 comments) says:

    NZ Summary Offences Act 1980

    3. Disorderly behaviour:

    ……..who, in or within view of any public place, behaves, or incites or encourages any person to behave, in a riotous, offensive, threatening, insulting, or disorderly manner that is likely in the circumstances to cause violence against persons or property to start or continue.

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  31. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    # mikenmild (2,304) Says:
    September 5th, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Weihana
    Barging into a church in the middle of a funeral to proclaim there is no God would be an example of being pointlessly offensive, particularly if it were done for no reason, or as a piece of ‘performance art’. There are plenty of mindless people out there quite happy to cause offence without having the slightest reason for doing so.

    —————————

    But is there something more to that act than just speech? It would seem to me that such an act, aside from the content of the message and its ability to offend, is more than just speech but also constitutes interference in the ability of other people to go about their lawful business. I think there is a big difference between running into a funeral home to disturb proceedings with a protest as opposed to having a billboard across the road from the funeral home which says “God does not exist”. The former is unacceptable and should be regulated against in my view. The latter is peaceful and civil discourse.

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  32. wat dabney (3,756 comments) says:

    A church is private property.

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