The fragility of free speech

April 16th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Liam Hehir writes in Manawatu Standard:

 It is trite to extol freedom of expression as being a right that is fundamental or the first freedom in any just society.

Such an essential right, has surprisingly recent origins as a feature of our legal framework.

For many centuries, English law  from which much of our law is derived  provided that any person who disparaged the King could be hauled before a special court known as the Star Chamber.

The censorship powers of the Star Chamber grew and it eventually took for itself the right to approve all literature for publication.

In 1632, the court even issued an outright ban on all “news books” that lasted for six years.

Things got better:

The freedom to disparage the king was soon added to the corpus of rights considered to be the privilege of freeborn Englishmen and the licensing order was allowed to lapse in 1694.

With time, that freedom was transmitted throughout the British Isles and was carried over to British possessions in North America, Australia and, in 1840, New Zealand.

Then things got worse:

Canada has for several decades intrusively regulated speech on sensitive issues such as multiculturalism and religion.

The bodies doing the regulation are so-called “human rights tribunals” whose powers and procedures are actually not unlike the old Star Chamber.

There are very few procedural safeguards for defendants and the tribunals have in the past imposed lifetime speech bans and taken the totalitarian step of ordering forced apologies.

Australia may be headed down the same path. Last year, broadcaster Andrew Bolt was convicted of racial vilification for arguing that some people with tenuous links to Aboriginal culture were so identifying for political and pecuniary purposes.

The federal government has recently held a review which has suggested drastic tightening of government control of the media.

But the worse examples are the UK:

Freedom of expression has been most undermined, however, in Britain. There are literally thousands of examples of Her Majesty’s constabulary policing the manners of her subjects.

An 11-year-old was prosecuted for calling another boy a “Paki” and other unpleasant names.

A 14-year-old was arrested and fingerprinted for asking her teacher to put her with another group because the rest of her group spoke Urdu.

A 21-year-old was recently been sent to jail for tweeting a nasty comment about a black football player.

The British police, so reluctant to intervene in the midst of the rampant property destruction of last year’s riots, have seen fit to place undercover detectives in ethnic restaurants to arrest patrons who order “flied lice”.

A man was even arrested in the Isle of Wight for singing Kung Fu Fighting at a karaoke bar. …

So why is it so bad in the UK:

One wag put it thus: “In Britain everything is policed except crime.”

If only that were true. The fact is that under laws like section 5 of the UK Public Order Act 1986, it is a crime to use “insulting words”  and that’s the problem.

British MP Dominic Raab recently discovered that the police invoked section five 18,249 times in 2009 alone.

My response to a law banning use of insulting words is “get fucked”!

We often like to think of New Zealand as being an exceptional place and, in this regard, it seems we are.

There are few limitations on what you can say or write here.

If you slander or libel someone you may face civil liability for defamation and you may not incite crimes or publish obscenity, but our police will not call in at your doorstep to question your views on the issues of the day.

Long may it last, but we must remain vigilant. We saw the original Electoral Finance Bill which would have made it illegal to e-mail your view on a current issue without an authorisation statement. We see religions demand that it be an offence to insult them, and we see some call for “hate speech” laws. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, said John Philpot Curran, and he was right.

Tags:

31 Responses to “The fragility of free speech”

  1. DJP6-25 (1,296 comments) says:

    These speech laws are one of the’blessings’ of socialisim.

    cheers

    David Prosser

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. davidp (3,551 comments) says:

    >A man was even arrested in the Isle of Wight for singing Kung Fu Fighting at a karaoke bar. …

    A group did a dance number to the Kung Fu Fighting song at the Chinese New Year Festival in Wellington this year. If this were the UK then the police would have had to arrest the dancers and organisers.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. BeaB (2,074 comments) says:

    Hear hear!
    For some reason in NZ we think everything should be regulated by law, from drinking to cafe surcharges to what we can think and say.
    It might be our Calvinist heritage but, like you, I believe this is a vital fight. I am all for measures like opprobrium, calling people out, making social norms clear etc but even scum like Kyle Chapman have the right to say what they think.
    And I have the right to ignore/disagree/be offended/deride/laugh without police assistance.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. Psycho Milt (2,348 comments) says:

    These speech laws are one of the’blessings’ of socialisim.

    The socialisim are the Jewish socialists or something, are they? Anyway, it’s great to know our Parliament is made up of citizen representatives with this level of thoughtful perception and insight.

    [DPF: I think you are confusing David Prosser with Richard Prosser]

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. EverlastingFire (291 comments) says:

    The west is so content on destroying itself it seems. Criticism of multiculturalism and religion need to be maintained as a right under free speech.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. Elaycee (4,322 comments) says:

    “We often like to think of New Zealand as being an exceptional place and, in this regard, it seems we are.”

    Yup – New Zealand is a model for free speech all right…. a Maori MP refers to the majority of the population as ‘White Motherfuckers’ and, in response to public calls for action, the Race Relations man Joris De Bres says Hone’s comment was ‘OK’ and there was no action required. But when someone makes an equally distasteful comment about Chinese / Maori / PI’s etc, Joris is out of his office and in front of the media before the echo from the comment has even petered out…

    Free speech? Sure…. but some are able to exercise the ‘right’ better than others, it seems.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. Chuck Bird (4,741 comments) says:

    “We see religions demand that it be an offence to insult them, and we see some call for “hate speech” laws. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, said John Philpot Curran, and he was right.”

    What religions have made that demand in NZ? I do recall the militant homosexuals wanted a couple of videos banned because they expressed views that they thought cast the homosexual lifestyle in a bad light. I am almost certain that the AIDS Foundation was one of the main organisations that argued for the ban wrongly ruled by a homosexual video censor to be continued. If Labour is elected again there is a good chance “hate Speech” legislation will be introduced.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. Other_Andy (2,466 comments) says:

    Free speech is a fragile right.
    Attacked from different angles…
    1. By ‘lawfare’
    2. By intimidation and violence

    And if that doesn’t work you call them Islamophobes, right wing extremists, homophobes and global warming deniers. The most overused and now almost meaningless label would be racist.
    No need for a rational discussion, just shame them into silence.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > The most overused and now almost meaningless label would be racist.

    And a close second would be anti-semite.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. awb (301 comments) says:

    There is a difference between regulating against obscenity (such as get fucked) and regulating against hate speech, such as the tweets sent about Muamba. (Not that I think he guy should have been jailed, overreaction, but I’m glad there is a law against hate speech.)

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. Other_Andy (2,466 comments) says:

    “And a close second would be anti-semite.”

    Mis-used yes.
    Overused, not so sure.
    Looking at the news (and the stats), there seems to be a sharp rise in anti-semitism, especially in Europe.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. kowtow (7,877 comments) says:

    Take a close look at Section 61 of our HRA 1993 and tell me what’s happening in the UK, Canada or Oz can’t happen here. It is only a matter of time. Where England goes……and all that. As a matter of interest Britain is said to have closely followed our Act.

    Canada ,Trudeau and multiculturalism have a lot to answer for too. Multiculturalism there started as a ’60′s civil rights movement by the Quebeckers and has now become an anti white,pro immigrant philosophy which ironically is robustly and correctly rejected by the independant,traditionalist minded Froggies,hahaha.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. m@tt (604 comments) says:

    An 11-year-old was prosecuted for calling another boy a “Paki” and other unpleasant names.
    A 14-year-old was arrested and fingerprinted for asking her teacher to put her with another group because the rest of her group spoke Urdu.
    A 21-year-old was recently been sent to jail for tweeting a nasty comment about a black football player.

    Breathlessly emotive descriptive language aside, none of these are examples of free speech. They are verbal assault or misconceived comment and although the person in question may be ‘free’ to make these comments those that take offence should be free to complain and have their complaint heard.

    True examples of free speech in action is people being able to make jokes, artistic or literary comment along these lines without being prosecuted. All of that is possible, just go check out a Ricky Gervais or Louie show. The day they are prosecuted is that day ‘free speech’ is dead, and I don’t see that happening at all.
    Even Michael Richards, who pushed the envelope a little too far, was never prosecuted.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. Graeme Edgeler (3,274 comments) says:

    My response to a law banning use of insulting words is “get fucked”!

    Summary Offences Act (NZ), s 4:

    4 Offensive behaviour or language

    (1) Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 who,—

    (a) in or within view of any public place, behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner; or

    (b) in any public place, addresses any words to any person intending to threaten, alarm, insult, or offend that person; or

    (c) in or within hearing of a public place,—

    (i) uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words; or

    (ii) addresses any indecent or obscene words to any person.

    (2) Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who, in or within hearing of any public place, uses any indecent or obscene words.

    It’s pretty close.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. BeaB (2,074 comments) says:

    m@tt As distastful as you might find these comments, to me they are expressions of freedom of speech. Once you, or I, or the police, decide what is OK and what is not, we are truly on a slippery slope.

    To me, changing this kind of speech is not the role of the law.

    I object to the whole ‘rights’ industry. It’s a waste of time and money just to decided whether you have been offended. Or to hear your ‘complaint’.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. Ed Snack (1,775 comments) says:

    I say bullshit m@tt about that. So it has to be a comedian does it or a member of an approved group to make such comments ? So if someone you don’t like makes such comments, you can just exclude them from the group and prosecute them. Easy stuff, but it ain’t free speech. And you think that an Urdu speaker would have been treated the same for asking to be relocated because their group spoke in English ?

    And I don’t like the term “hate speech” either, it too is hideously overused by anyone who thinks to gain the ultimate in power in our society, victimhood status. Once you’re “officially” a victim, anything is possible. Nope, hate speech is only when quite specifically it calls for violence to be done against others, then we can simply call it “incitement to violence” and deal with it as a crime as it has been for a very long time.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. Other_Andy (2,466 comments) says:

    “True examples of free speech in action is people being able to make jokes, artistic or literary comment along these lines without being prosecuted. All of that is possible, just go check out a Ricky Gervais or Louie show. The day they are prosecuted is that day ‘free speech’ is dead, and I don’t see that happening at all.”

    Does Gregorius Nekshot count?
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/abigailesman/2011/12/27/radical-islam-claims-another-gregorius-nekschot-rip/

    What about threats and intimidation to silence artists?
    Salman Rushdie?
    Kurt Westergaard?
    Lars Vilks?
    South park?

    How many comedians do you know that make jokes about Islam, muslims or mohammed? Plenty of jokes about catholics, mormons and jews but none about muslims. Why do you think that is?
    In other words…..
    The day that comedians can freely critise or joke about Islam, free speech is restored again but I don’t see that happening at all.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    “An 11-year-old was prosecuted for calling another boy a “Paki” and other unpleasant names.

    A 14-year-old was arrested and fingerprinted for asking her teacher to put her with another group because the rest of her group spoke Urdu.

    A 21-year-old was recently been sent to jail for tweeting a nasty comment about a black football player.

    The British police, so reluctant to intervene in the midst of the rampant property destruction of last year’s riots, have seen fit to place undercover detectives in ethnic restaurants to arrest patrons who order “flied lice”.

    A man was even arrested in the Isle of Wight for singing Kung Fu Fighting at a karaoke bar. …”

    Liberal Left ideology in practice.

    “So why is it so bad in the UK”

    Too many third world and Muslim immigrants who despise Western culture, and too many guilt ridden liberal left retards falling over themselves to appease them.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. m@tt (604 comments) says:

    Whether you like it or not people will take offence at those comments, whether made by joe bloggs or some member of a group. There must be someway to distinguish between someone verbally abusing a person because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or otherwise and someone making valid statements of fact or using artistic license. It’s that simple.

    None of the examples given above, in my opinion, were sensible, warranted comments.

    You all have the right to walk down the street making karate moves at will… if you happen to connect one of those moves with a person, you have broken the law. Speech is no different, say whatever you like, just be prepared to justify it if you ‘connect’ with someone in a way they do not like.

    As for Islam not being a valid target, again… go watch a Ricky Gervais or Louie CK show. I think you will find free speech is alive and well, unless what you really mean is you want free speech just to be your cover for being able to abuse people at will.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. wat dabney (3,716 comments) says:

    You all have the right to walk down the street making karate moves at will… if you happen to connect one of those moves with a person, you have broken the law. Speech is no different, say whatever you like, just be prepared to justify it if you ‘connect’ with someone in a way they do not like.

    Worst. Metaphor. Ever.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. Other_Andy (2,466 comments) says:

    @m@tt

    So is short matt, you either don’t know or care anything about the trials of Jesper Langballe and Lars Hedegaard in Demark, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Elizabeth Sabatich-Wolff in Austria.
    Salman Rushdie, Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks threatened.
    Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn killed.
    Who cares about Ricky Gervais or the Louie CK show?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. Viking2 (11,228 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler (2,313) Says:
    April 16th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    My response to a law banning use of insulting words is “get fucked”!

    Summary Offences Act (NZ), s 4:

    4 Offensive behaviour or language

    (1) Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 who,—

    (a) in or within view of any public place, behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner; or

    (b) in any public place, addresses any words to any person intending to threaten, alarm, insult, or offend that person; or

    (c) in or within hearing of a public place,—

    (i) uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words; or

    (ii) addresses any indecent or obscene words to any person.

    (2) Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who, in or within hearing of any public place, uses any indecent or obscene words.

    It’s pretty close.

    What word in the kiwi language would you consider obscene?

    Can’t think of a single one.

    The very worst expression inmho has been outed by John (the Baptist) Harawira and accepted by Joris the jerk as OK.
    Anything else pales in context.

    Like most things the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just as the definition of obscene is one’s own opinion.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  23. mikenmild (11,234 comments) says:

    It’s been said, I think a couple of times in this thread, that Joris de Bres was ‘OK’ with Hone Harawira’s racist comments. Not quite so – de Bres said the comments were offensive, but did not constitute a breach of the
    Human Rights Act.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  24. wat dabney (3,716 comments) says:

    the comments were offensive, but did not constitute a breach of the Human Rights Act.

    By definition, no comments can breach a Human Rights Act. If they do, then is is a Human Rights Suppression Act.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  25. mikenmild (11,234 comments) says:

    wat
    There are some provisions in the HRA targeting speech, but they only apply in situations relating to employment or access to good and services.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  26. thor42 (964 comments) says:

    I would actually like us to have a written Constitution with the right of free speech enshrined in it.
    That would seem to be a good way of protecting it once and for all.
    Free speech also means having the freedom to say things that some may find offensive – for example, “Islam is a cult”. The right to criticise religion is **essential**.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  27. mikenmild (11,234 comments) says:

    see section 14 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act…

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  28. wat dabney (3,716 comments) says:

    Unfortunately the US Constitution was a moment in history and will perhaps never be repeated; and even then successive Federal governments have managed to trash most of it by packing the Supreme Court. One of the few items they haven’t managed to find a lawyerly way around is the right to free speech.

    Any constitution written today would serve not to limit government but to authorise its every urge. Unlike the handful of pages of the US Constitution, the EU Constitution was/is in excess of 200 pages of rules about how the eurostate can control anything and everything.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  29. CYS (3 comments) says:

    Section 14 doesn’t work unless one has unlimited funds and stamina to pursue litigation when it is breached. It does not work because government officials do not (or choose not to) understand that it protects the expression of opinion and information with which they do not agree and which they even may find unkind or offensive. There is an unresolved issue between me and a government agency in relation to an advertisement to which that agency took exception in 2008. My attitude was deemed unacceptably ‘negative’ and ‘critical’ and further action against me ensued. What scared me the most (and still does) was that no one within that agency acknowledged the POSSIBLE relevance of s 14. No discussion about where the reasonable limits were – just an assumption that the bureaucrats could forbid criticism and their will must be obeyed. And, when asked for support against this dictatorial line, my own professional body declined, expressing the view in an internal email (not shared with me at the time) that this ‘would not happen’ and therefore I must have been mistaken. (They did not come back to me to check.)

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  30. Elaycee (4,322 comments) says:

    milkmilo says: “It’s been said, I think a couple of times in this thread, that Joris de Bres was ‘OK’ with Hone Harawira’s racist comments. Not quite so – de Bres said the comments were offensive, but did not constitute a breach of the
    Human Rights Act.”

    The De Bres (reported) response: “Maori Party MP Hone Harawira’s “offensive” email did not breach the Human Rights Act, the Race Relations Commissioner says. Mr Harawira lashed out at white people over criticism that he bunked off a work trip to visit Paris, accusing “white motherf…ers” of “puritanical bullshit” for expecting him to follow the rules in an email exchange. Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said he believed the email Mr Harawira sent was “offensive”, but did not breach the Human Rights Act because it was a freedom of speech. More than 20 complaints about the email had been made to the commission, but he would not take any action against Mr Harawira, Mr de Bres told Radio New Zealand.”

    So, no action at all by Joris. And he was clearly ‘OK’ with it because he stated Hone’s comment was simply freedom of speech and that Hone was ‘within his rights’ to make the comment. If he *wasn’t OK* with it, he would have come out and said so – as he has done with various comments against Chinese / Indian / PI people etc.

    http://www.3news.co.nz/Hone-Harawiras-racist-outburst-within-his-rights—de-Bres/tabid/209/articleID/128701/Default.aspx

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  31. BlairM (2,303 comments) says:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    It’s so fucking simple, and so brilliant, but those Founding Fathers in Philadelphia were bold and brave men. We could do no better (and a lot worse) than have a New Zealand Constitution with those words in them verbatim.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.