Michael Forbes at Stuff reports:
Justice Minister Judith Collins says it is important that Kiwis retain the right to be idiots and make fools of themselves.
Ms Collins made the comment during her speech at a NetSafe conference in Wellington today, where she reinforced the her view that a hard line should be taken on cyber-bullying and harassment.
In doing so, she pointed to reports out of Britain this week where a woman was found guilty by a jury of racially abusing her New Zealand-born neighbour by calling her a “stupid fat Australian” during a drunken tirade.
Ms Collins said that while the Government was considering a range of initiatives and law changes to stamp out cyber-bullying, she did not want to see people’s freedom of speech restricted to that extent.
“I don’t think that’s something we want to see in New Zealand. I do think it’s important to retain the right to be idiots and to make fools of ourselves,” she said.
“But when it goes too far, particularly the sort of bullying that ends with young people committing suicide, that’s where we need to be very-much focused.”
There definitely is a case for some law changes. But we do need to be aware that the proposed Communications Tribunal with proposed powers to order material to be taken down does pose significant free speech issues – and it is important we get the balance right.
In August, the Law Commission released its report on harmful digital communications, which recommended a new electronic communications offence for those aged 14 and over and the establishment of a Communications Tribunal to enforce apologies, take-down and cease-and-desist orders, and unmask anonymous offenders.
More contemptible by far than the anonymous correspondent is the anonymous blogger, particularly in a democracy like New Zealand where freedom of speech is limited only by the laws of defamation. Such lack of spine contrasts starkly with the courage of those anonymous bloggers and pamphleteers who are the advocates of freedom and democracy in totalitarian societies.
The irony is that those who blog under their actual names tend to be much better and effective for it. When you know that your words will be linked to you, you tend to take greater care in what you say.