The Press on offence

October 2nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

EnSoc’s critics, and people generally, need to learn not to be too hasty to take offence. Prejudice and stereotyping are seldom effective humour, but howls of outrage can be a sign that a palpable hit has been made against some sacred cow or other. Even if there is no particular point being made, some leeway should be allowable for youthful exuberance.

Thin-lipped disapproval and the po-faced taking of offence are too often used to shut down others’ freedom of expression.

The claim that something has caused offence can be a veil for censorship and an attempt to create a culture in which a bland homogeneity of thought and opinion prevails.

To put it at its loftiest, one of the rights protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is the right to freedom of expression. That must include the right to express thoughts and opinions others may find offensive, even odious.

It is unlikely any such high-toned notions were in the minds of the student EnSoc members when they thought up their tasteless defamations of women and Muslims and they should certainly act with greater regard for the sensitivities of others, but the principle applies all the same.

Well said. I recall Otago University capping magazines that were stuffed full of absolutely offensive humour. There is no right in NZ law not to be offended,

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The intolerance with dissent on US campuses

June 13th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Joel Kotkin writes:

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.

As the modern clerisy has seen its own power grow, even while the middle class shrinks, it has used its influence to enforce a prescribed set of acceptable ideas. On everything from gender and sexual preference to climate change, those who dissent from the official pieties risk punishment.

This power has been seen recently in a host of cancellations of commencement speakers. Just in the past few months Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, have been prevented from speaking by campus virtue squads whose sensibilities they had offended.

Normally a top achieving African-American woman or a Somali born feminist would be welcomed on campuses. But they are not left wingers, so they get blocked.

The spate of recent cancellation reflect an increasingly overbearing academic culture that promotes speech codes on what is permissible to say and even seeks to provide “trigger warnings” to warn students about the presence of nominally troubling subject matter in readings and discussions so they can avoid the elements of reality they find offensive. 

Universities were once bastions of freedom of speech, which includes a freedom to offend.

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Where does online free speech end?

June 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Messages posted on Facebook and Twitter or sent in emails can be tasteless, vulgar and even disturbing.

But just when do they cross the line from free speech to threats that can be punished as a crime?

As the internet and social networks allow people to vent their frustrations with the click of a mouse, the US Supreme Court is being asked to clarify the First Amendment rights of people who use violent or threatening language on electronic media where the speaker’s intent is not always clear. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom f speech and other basic rights.

The justices could decide as early as Monday whether to hear appeals in two cases where defendants were convicted and sent to jail for making illegal threats, despite their claims that they never meant any harm.

Often authorities do over-react. The worst case was in the UK when a man was arrested seven days after he tweeted he was so annoyed with a flight delay, he might blow something up. A dumb thing to do, and one could understand if action was taken at the time. But to hunt him down seven days later, was awful.

But how about these cases:

In one case, a Pennsylvania man ranted on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, blowing up an amusement park, slitting the throat of an FBI agent and committing “the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.”

That’s way over the line. Especially the reference to the estranged wife, and the school shooting.

The other case involves a Florida woman who emailed a conservative radio talk show host about “second amendment gun rights” and said she was planning “something big” at a Broward County government building or school. The US Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

“I’m going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd Amendment is all about,” the email said. Her comments triggered a lockdown affecting more than a quarter-million students.

No sympathy in this case either. It is a specific credible threat that could not be ignored.

In both cases, the defendants were prosecuted under a federal statute that makes it a crime to transmit a “threat to injure the person of another.” Those laws apply only to “true threats” that are not protected by the First Amendment under a doctrine established by the Supreme Court in 1969. The high court has said laws prohibiting threats must not infringe on constitutionally protected speech that includes “political hyperbole” or “vehement,” “caustic,” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall shy of true threats.

I’d see both of those as true threats. A quip about blowing up an airport because a flight was late is hyperbole.

The wife of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, man, Anthony Elonis, testified at his trial that the postings made her fear for her life. One post about his wife said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

What a creep. Posting that to the Internet is a form of mental torture, designed to harass and terrify his wife – at least.

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Even racists shouldn’t be banned

January 13th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

In a move with no precedent in recent French history, the socialist Government of President Francois Hollande last week secured approval in a top court to preventatively ban a show by a man it characterises as the “pedlar of hate”.

The target for the wrath is a so-called alternative comedian, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who specialises in crude jokes about Jews.

I love jokes about Jews – so long as the jokes are motivated by humour, not hatred. The intention is key.

He clearly hates Jews. He recently said that when he thinks of a prominent French Jewish radio journalist he thinks “Gas chambers … too bad”.

However trying to ban his shows is not the way to go It increases his fringe popularity. If he breaks the law he can be held accountable for that (and has been), but pro-active banning of a performance is a bad precedent.

The show that was outlawed had been in preview performances, where it included a sketch in which the comedian pretends to urinate against a wall, and then reveals it is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism.

I’d just reflect that if he did a show which includes him urinating on The Koran, he would probably be dead by now.

 

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Edgeler on free speech and boycotts

November 22nd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Graeme Edgeler has a lengthy post at Public Address on the consequences of calling on advertisers to boycott shows. I recommend people read it in full, as it is hard to do justice to it with just some extracts.

I don’t like advertiser boycotts; especially not boycotts of advertisers for the content of the programmes during which their advertising appears, and especially not if that programme is news or current affairs.

Yes, free speech has consequences. But the exercise of free speech in response also has consequences.

There are several aspects to this. I do not think that advertisers should exercise control – even indirectly – over content. For advertisers, the programming is the medium, not the message; a programme is a conduit to the audience of a broadcaster, not something they should generally been seen as supporting. Especially when we are dealing with news or current affairs, those advertising during a particular programme should not be seen as endorsing the views expressed in it. And I think that if people generally treat advertisers as bearing responsibility for editorial content, they are more likely to either want some control over it, or to spend their advertising dollars in a way that has that effect.

We have ad-supported broadcasting. While there might be a place for a real public broadcaster, most of the radio and television we have will continue to be ad-supported. I like that there is a variety of things to watch and to listen to (most of which I don’t). But if we really start holding advertisers to account for the content of programmes or channels on which their ads appear, then they will be more circumspect about placing ads, and some voices may be lost.

That is not to say that those calling for boycotts should be stopped. Their speech is just as worthy of protection as the speech they seek to shut down. I simply ask that they consider not only the consequences of the speech they are protesting, but also the consequences of the speech they engage in.

I may agree that the speech targeted in one boycott is ill-considered, or harmful in some way, but next time a boycott succeeds it might have the effect of reducing speech I like, or think is valuable. Targeting Freeview over something Willie Jackson and John Tamihere have said, or Heritage Hotels for something Paul Henry said over which they had no control (and shouldn’t have control) in order to punish their broadcasters for airing them, isn’t fundamentally different from arranging a boycott of Four (or Mediaworks) for airing an episode of South Park about the abuse by Catholic clergy, or someone else for airing pro-homosexual propaganda like Queer Nation or The L Word.

Well said.  Again, I recommend people read the whole post.

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Geddis on free speech

October 29th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Geddis writes at Pundit:

Does the right to free speech extend to shouting at a woman to take off her burqa in a supermarket? If not, why not?

A good question.

For example, the Supreme Court, in a couple of cases calledBrooker v Police and Morse v Police (I’ve posted on them in passinghere and here), has indicated that the offences of “disorderly” and “offensive” behaviour now need to be applied in ways that are properly respectful of the rights of individuals to express their (often unpopular or inconvenient) views on social and political matters. Such expression should only be criminalised where it poses some threat to public order that exceeds the bounds of what a properly tolerant citizen who is mindful of the rights of others should have to bear.

The threshold for speech to be criminal should be very high indeed.

Now, here’s the question for us (where “us” are nice liberal folks who share in the positive values of tolerance and respect for others). Why should Ms Rappard’s particular expression of views that we find quite distasteful attract a criminal conviction and fine?

Well, it can’t be the views themselves, can it? Because if it is, can we distinguish Ms Rappard’s actions from (say) a Maori kaumatua who tells a visiting tourist to take off a t-shirt that he believes has an image that misappropriates or demeans part of tikanga Maori?

Well, maybe we could do so, on the basis that the burqa has a particular religious importance and meaning for the student above and beyond that which a tourist would feel for a mere t-shirt. However, isn’t it precisely that religious importance and significance that so upsets Ms Rappard? So the symbolic value of the burqa works both ways here – it both increases the impact of the expression on the student, but also increases the “value” of the expression to Ms Rappard. How can we privilege the right of the student to wear what she wants for religious reasons over Ms Rappard’s right to express her views on that student’s public attestation of her faith?

I agree saying take off your burqa should not in itself be something you can not say.

So if it isn’t the views in and of themselves that warrant criminal sanction, maybe it’s the way that they were expressed. No matter how strongly you feel on an issue, approaching a stranger while they are going about their daily business and personally insulting them (“dirty Muslim”) by shouting into their face just ought not to be allowed.

Let’s say that’s the problem here – by targetting the student and personally “attacking” her, Ms Rappard crossed over the line into deliberately victimising her in a bullying manner. (Looked at in this way, the current case has a lot of similarities to this other tricky line-drawing exercise from earlier in the year.)

OK – but this standard then has implications for (say) protestors at the next National Party conference. Surely anyone so incensed at National’s performance in government who walks up to a delegate and shouts at her or him “Tory scum! You should be ashamed of what you are doing to New Zealand!” has acted in an “offensive” a way as Ms Rappard did. Or, again, can we privilege certain kinds of shouted insults (into the faces of ordinary political party members seeking to attend their organisation’s meeting) over and above others (into the faces of students while they are doing their weekly shopping)?

I think you can distinguish the two. Having protesters shout abuse at you as you attend a party conference is par for the course – you are there to take part in a political conference that of course attracts diverse opinions.

However if I was wearing (for example) a National Party t-shirt at my local supermarket and someone came up to me and started abusing me and yelling in my face, I’d be very unimpressed. However I’d tell them to go copulate themselves rather than call the Police!

That’s bad, and I am sorry the student felt that way. But here’s the crux of the matter – whose fault is it that Ms Rappard’s expression had this impact? Is it Ms Rappard’s, because she has so contravened generally accepted values of civility that the hurt caused was both entirely predictable and beyond that which should be permitted? Or is it the student’s, because she is failing to display the sort of resiliance and tough-mindedness needed to live in a society with multiple, conflicting views on how the world should be? 

In other words, who should be expected to be “tolerant” here? Ms Rappard, by refraining from expressing vehemently her views on the student’s religious choices? Or the student, by just sucking up Ms Rappard’s boorish behaviour and carrying on with her life?

A good point.

So here’s the question we (where “we” are nice liberal folks who share in the positive values of tolerance and respect for others) face. Can we find some way to draw a line that allows us to get all the good things we want out of a commitment to free speech, while still saying that Ms Rappard’s particular behaviour ought to attract the sanction of the criminal law? Or, are we forced by our commitment to tolerance and respect for others to agree with Ms Rappard’s assessment of the Court’s verdict?

The guilty finding was an example of political correctness ”gone mad”, she said.

”Telling a woman to take a burqa off is in my mind not offensive,” she said.

I think Ms Rappard is a pretty despicable human being to start shouting abuse at someone just because she disapproves of her head scarf. She should be ashamed of herself. However I don’t think it should be a matter for the Police unless the behaviour crosses the line into threatening.

What would have been better would be if other people at the scene rounded on Ms Rappard and told her how awful her behaviour was.

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Book Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, by Richard King

October 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has a book review by me on an excellent book by Richard King called On Offence: The Politics of Indignation.

To quote my own review:

Richard King’s On Offence: The Politics of Indignation is very timely. King argues that all around the world more and more people are claiming it is their right to not have others offend them, and governments and other institutions are bowing to their demands. …

King argues that the principle of free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend and that the modern fetish for sensitivity is corrosive of genuine civility. Well-documented and researched, his book doesn’t just report on the high-profile cases of manufactured offence, but dissects the changes in society that have led to this.

It condemns sensitive souls on the left and right of politics, lambasting both political correctness and religious conservatism. Governments and the media are jointly judged as spineless for their failure to defend freedom of speech in the case of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

King slates political correctness as moving beyond political liberalism when those fighting against intolerance and bigotry do not seek freedom from others’ views but the freedom to impose their own on others. He also takes aim at what he calls patriotic correctness, where political opponents are browbeaten for undermining national pride.

I suspect many readers would enjoy reading the book. It is in no way a kneejerk book, but a very incisive examination of the growing culture of a claimed right not to be offended.

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A win for free speech in the UK

January 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Home secretary Theresa May said the Government will accept a House of Lords amendment to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Excellent. It should not be a crime to be insulting.

The amendment had been promoted in the House of Lords by Lord Dear, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary.

Six years ago police tried to prosecute Oxford student Sam Brown after he said to a mounted officer: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?”

Mr Brown, who made the comment during a night out with friends in Oxford after his final exams, was arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act for making homophobic remarks.

The horse should have been forced to testify on whether he felt victimised.

The following year Kyle Little, a 16-year-old from Newcastle, was fined £50 with £150 costs for saying “woof” to a Labrador dog in front of police officers.

If a bad law is there, the Police will often use it. We should get rid of blasphemous libel, for example, as a crime. That at least needs the AG’s permission for a prosecution.

The amendment had been pushed for by comedian Rowan Atkinson who had warned that criticism, unfavourable comparison or “merely stating an alternative point of view” could be interpreted as an insult and lead to arrest.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last month, Lord Dear, said that the law had “no place in our country” because the law was being “used to undermine free speech because of the way it is framed”.

Last month House of Lords vote saw peers vote overwhelmingly by 150 to 54 in favour of the change. Campaigners welcomed the change. Simon Calvert, Reform Section 5 campaign director, said he was “very pleased” by the Government’s statement.

He said: “This is a victory for free speech. People of all shades of opinion have suffered at the hands of Section 5.

A victory for comedians and free speech.

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Press freedom in China

January 9th, 2013 at 8:27 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports at Stuff:

The Communist Party chief of Guangdong province has reportedly stepped in to mediate a standoff over censorship at a Chinese newspaper, in a potentially encouraging sign for press freedoms in China.

A source close to the Guangdong Communist Party Committee said Hu Chunhua, a rising political star in China who just took over leadership of Guangdong province last month, had offered a solution to the dispute that led to some staff at the Southern Weekly going on strike.

The drama began late last week when reporters at the liberal paper accused censors of replacing a New Year letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party’s achievements.

Under Hu’s deal, the source said, newspaper workers would end their strike and return to work, the paper would print as normal this week, and most staff would not face punishment. “Guangdong’s Hu personally stepped in to resolve this,” the source said.

“He gets personal image points by showing that he has guts and the ability to resolve complex situations. In addition, the signal that he projects through this is one of relative openness, it’s a signal of a leader who is relatively steady.”

The standoff at the Southern Weekly, long seen as a beacon of independent and in-depth reporting in China’s highly controlled media landscape, has led to demands for the country’s new leadership to grant greater media freedoms.

China will never be a democracy as we have them in Europe and down under. Change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. But it has been moving in the right direction for most of the last couple of decades and may end up with a Singapore system of governance one day – semi-democratic.

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The right to be an idiot

November 29th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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.

Brian Edwards has a blog post on anonymous bloggers. He says:

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.

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Rowan Atkinson on “insulting” free speech

November 2nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

No Right Turn blogged:

Freedom of speech is a precious thing. But in the UK, it is being chilled by an outdated, overborad law. Section 5 of the UK’s Public Order Act criminalises speech which is “threatening, abusive or insulting”. That’s right – “insulting”. Who decides whether someone is “insulted”? The police.

As can be expected, this has led to a large number of abusive prosecutions. People have been threatened with prosecution or actually arrested, charged and tried for calling Scientology a cult (an obvious statement of truth), barking back at a dog, standing up for gay rights, opposing gay rights, debating religion, displaying “culled” toy seals with red food colouring on them, and saying that religions are fairy stories for adults. You can think a lot of things about those statements, but one thing is clear: none of them should be a criminal matter. None of them reach the level of threats or incitement which would justify restricting speech in a free and open society.

There is a campaign now to Reform Section 5, backed by everyone from the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society. These groups may disagree on a lot of things, but one thing they do agree on is that hurting people’s feelings shouldn’t be a crime. They have the backing of a pile of MPs, and hopefully this means the law will be changed soon.

I absolutely agree. It is a horrendous law. Have a look at the examples here.

Rowan Atkinson at the launch of the campaign.

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Trying to suppress free speech

October 26th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Bean Heather at Stuff reports:

A tobacco giant is being accused of illegally advertising cigarettes under the guise of a “public awareness campaign”.

The Health Ministry has received 14 complaints against British American Tobacco New Zealand’s “agree/disagree” campaign opposing plain packaging.

The complainants say the company’s campaign – which has included television, radio and print ads – breaches the tobacco advertising ban.

But the ministry has disagreed, with chief legal adviser Phil Knipe claiming that there were “insufficient grounds to support enforcement action at this time”.

Of course the complaints went nowhere. The ban on advertising of tobacco is designed to stop marketing of cigarettes – not designed to stop a company from voicing its opinion on a regulatory issue. I suspect those who complained know that.

As it happens I think the BAT campaign is stupid, and in fact likely to be counter-productive to their cause. So don’t think I am defending the campaign. But BAT have the right to voice their concerns over a proposed law.

The name of the company is very different to the name of a cigarette brand. I doubt 99% of those who smoke a BAT cigarette know whom BAT is.

Advertising Standards Authority chief executive Hilary Souter said she had also received complaints calling the campaign illegal, all of which had been referred to the ministry.

“Whether or not the ad is a tobacco ad is outside our mandate,” she said.

On Friday, the authority also dismissed five complaints against British American Tobacco (BAT) regarding other aspects of its campaign. Most complainants felt the campaign was misleading, confusing facts with opinions.

One complainant called it “an attack on the sovereignty of political discourse in New Zealand”.

Actually those trying to suppress the rights of free speech are the real attack on the sovereignty of political discourse.

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Dom Post on free speech

September 21st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The anti-Muslim movie blamed for the wave of violence sweeping across the Muslim world is an appalling piece of propaganda. The work of a convicted conman, it is utterly without merit – artistic, historical or intellectual.

The same might  also be said of the grotesque caricatures published  by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet Mohammed in a range of demeaning positions. They are offensive, insulting and designed to provoke.

Neither, however, is reason for the murder of innocents, the storming of embassies or the further propagation of hatred. Perhaps the most shocking of all the images seen since United States ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in an attack linked to the movie was that of a small child at a protest in Sydney holding aloft a sign bearing the words: ”Behead all those who insult the Prophet.”

That is not the Australian way, it is not the Western way and it should not be the way anywhere. As one Australian politician observed: ”Kids of this age should be playing hide and seek, not calling for jihad or beheadings.”

That was so incredibly disturbing. The one good thing from it is that there has been such a backlash against these violent protests in Australia, that the extremists are being marginalised.

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The cyber-bullying law

September 6th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Barton writes at NZ Herald:

In its rushed proposals to stomp out cyber bullying, the Law Commission has blundered in haste.

Instead of refining our existing laws to ensure they reach into cyberspace, it’s proposing a whole new offence “causing harm by means of communication device.”

No, it doesn’t mean causing grievous bodily harm by taking to someone with your iPhone. The proposed offence aims to make it illegal to send “a message or other matter” – whether by text, Twitter, email or Facebook that is “grossly offensive; or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character; or knowingly false”. To make the criminal charge stick you’d also have to show that the sender was out to cause substantial emotional distress to someone else.

I have some concerns with the proposed law also. But it is worth noting the law does not create a new criminal offence, or charge. It proposed a tribunal that could order material removed.

“We are prepared to accept that a case can be made out for making the very worst of deliberately harmful speech illegal,” says Tech Liberty, which has argued against aspects of the proposals. “However, we see no reason why this illegality should only be limited to electronic communications. Surely a poison-pen letter delivered to the letter box can be as harmful as an email or a text message on a phone.”

Making separate laws for the internet and the real world ushers in a dangerous precedent and sets up the prospect of two different legal realms.

This is one of the issue. Something done offline and online should be treated the same. Arguably you could extend the gambit of the proposed Communications Tribunal to include offline harmful speech also. Or you could narrow it to only target speech which is currently covered by our laws.

The proposed law is under consideration by the Government, and could even be introduced to Parliament later this year. There are potentially very significant ramifications for Internet users.

To help inform debate, and to try and improve the proposed law, InternetNZ has organised two half day workshops on the proposed law. The agenda is here and details are:

  • Wellington, Mon 17 Sep, 1 pm – 5 pm, Civic Suites, Wellington Town Hall
  • Auckland, Tue 18 Sep, 1 pm – 5 pm, Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

If you wish to attend, you can RSVP to rsvp@internetnz.net.nz. They are free to attend.

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Free Pussy Riot

August 4th, 2012 at 3:17 pm by David Farrar

A Green campaign I support:

 This week the trial of three members of the Russian feminist punk group “Pussy Riot” started in Moscow.

They may have been rude and they may have been offensive but the charges are clearly politically motivated and totally disproportionate to the offence. Amnesty International considers the activists to be prisoners of conscience and are campaigning to free them.

Today Jan Logie, Denise Roche and I paid a visit to the Russian Embassy in Wellington to hand over a letter saying: …

We agree with Amnesty International that they are prisoners of conscience and we ask your Government to release these young women.

Being offensive to either Putin or a religion should not result in anyone going to jail.

The three band members. Russia continues to go backwards.

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A victory for free speech

July 19th, 2012 at 8:07 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Anti-abortion group ProLife has been allowed to stay as a club within the Auckland University Students’ Association despite complaints the group was harassing vulnerable students on campus.

The association had received two complaints about pamphlets containing “misinformed” health information on abortions being distributed by the group, and of students feeling harassed.

The association held a meeting yesterday to decide whether the group should be disaffiliated.

There was heated debate during the meeting, which attracted about 300 people, and students eventually voted 225 to 117 to allow the club to stay within the association.

ProLife New Zealand spokeswoman Rachel Wong disputed the club had done anything wrong in the first place.

She said the association failed to communicate with the club after receiving an “anonymous” and “unsubstantiated” email complaint.

The Right to Know pamphlet carries the slogan: “Hands up if you’ve heard this before: Abortion is a safe, simple medical procedure.”

Wong said the pamphlets, distributed for two weeks in May, were not confrontational.

“For us, the main issue is freedom of speech. Clubs should be able to voice their opinions at uni and express their ideas.”

I’m very glad AUSA members voted against disaffiliating Prolife. A university campus especially should be tolerant of unpopular speech.

Some advice for Prolife though – having the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is a good idea to do it. Personally I think handing out pamphlets on the health risks of abortions to random female students is not a great idea. You have the right to do so, but I doubt that tactic helps your cause much.

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Is there freedom of speech at Auckland University?

July 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Prolife NZ has said:

Prolife New Zealand (PLNZ) is alarmed at the fact that Auckland student club, Prolife Auckland, is this week facing the possibility of disaffiliation simply for engaging in an act of freedom of expression at the Auckland University campus. …

In May this year Auckland University student club ProLife Auckland, in a peaceful and non-confrontational manner, distributed a one-page leaflet titled ‘Right to Know’.

The pamphlet advocated for the right of women to know the common health risks associated with abortion and the alternatives available to them, so that they can make truly informed decisions when faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. The campaign pamphlet was distributed by PLNZ clubs at universities across New Zealand and contained a link to a webpage with further information and resources.

On the basis of one single anonymous, unsubstantiated email allegation, claiming that the pamphlets contained ‘misleading health information’ and ‘lies about health procedures’, the AUSA called a Special General Meeting (SGM) to disaffiliate student club Prolife Auckland.

Not only was this allegation never properly investigated by the AUSA, and the AUSA deliberations regarding this matter conducted in secrecy, but Prolife Auckland were never even informed that an SGM had been called to disaffiliate them – they found this out by sheer chance a week after the decision had been made by the AUSA.

More importantly, the claims of ‘misleading health information’ still remain completely unproven, in fact the medical statements in the pamphlet are supported by reference footnotes to a number of reputable medical journals.

Since Prolife Auckland’s inception it has come up against unwarranted resistance and intimidation at the University of Auckland. This is in contrast to PLNZ’s other branches at Victoria, Canterbury and Massey University in Palmerston North, which have been permitted to peaceably contribute to the free exchange of ideas on campus without fear of reprisal – the cornerstone of academic freedom.

This attempt to ban ProLife Auckland and the complete disregard for natural justice in this case, only serves to further highlight the prejudice of an intolerant minority against the affiliation of pro-life clubs at the University of Auckland. Most alarmingly, it shows that certain members of the AUSA Executive are willing to deny students their human right to freedom of expression simply for peacefully expressing themselves on campus.

I am pro-choice, not pro-life (to use their term). If I was on campus and someone handed me a flyer informing me of the health risks of abortion, I would probably politely suggest they should procreate with themselves.

However I absolutely defend their right to not just hold their views, but to promote them. On a university campus especially, freedom of speech should be the paramount value.

AUSA should not be deciding if the pamphlets have “misleading health information” any more than they should decide if political party pamphlets are misleading. Would they disaffiliate (for example) Princes Street Labour if someone complained about one of their pamphlets. If material is misleading, there are a number of regulatory bodies that can be complained to. It is not a decision for a small group of student politicians.

I would comment to all AUSA members the words of Noam Chomsky:

“with regard to freedom of speech there are basically two positions: you defend it vigorously for views you hate, or you reject it and prefer Stalinist/fascist standards”

I hope that all those who disagree with the views of ProlifeNZ still defend their right to express their views and be able to operate on campus as an affiliated club.

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A petition to protect the Internet

July 12th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

A group of like minded individuals and groups have launched a petition calling on the New Zealand Government to vote against extending the regulatory authority of the International Telecommunications Union to the Internet.

The petition is here, and it takes less than a minute to sign.

Vote against the ITU having regulatory authority over the Internet Petition | GoPetition

The background to the petition is:

Right from inception, the Internet has had no central ruling authority. But this December, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is conducting a review of the international agreements governing telecommunications and aims to expand its regulatory authority to the Internet. 

Countries such as Russia which are advocating the ITU have regulatory authority over the Internet have advocated restrictions over the Internet “where it is used to interfere in the internal affairs of a state”. This represents a dramatic threat to the openness of the Internet, where countries could regulate content not just within their own borders, but over the entire Internet.

Geographically isolated nations such as New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations have a significant economic and social interest in an open and well functioning internet. Accordingly, such changes to the ITU may harm our social and economic well being more than other nations.

The ITU has been a closed organisation for nearly 150 years – they represent the antithesis of the Internet community’s open and inclusive approach. Civil society, private sector, technical experts, and Internet users will only have limited input in the process. This would be a significant departure from the open, participatory, multistakeholder model that has made the internet a successful driver of social and economic growth.

If you support the continuing evolution of the multistakeholder internet, you are invited to read and sign this statement of principles.

We are calling on the NZ Government to specifically:

We request the New Zealand Government to vote against any amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations, to be considered at the World Conference on International telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) which would give the ITU regulatory authority over the Internet, as it is not a truly open and transparent multistakeholder institution, but ultimately a body controlled by Governments.

We also request the New Zealand Government to take a pro-active stance in advocating to other states the benefits of retaining the current open and transparent multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet and to invest in proactive representation and promotion of the Internet as a vital, global platform for access to information and communication, and an enabler of economic and social opportunity.

Again, feel free to sign and promote the petition within your networks. This is an important issue.

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Canada repeals hate speech laws

June 11th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Montreal Gazette reports:

The Conservative government voted late Wednesday to repeal controversial sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act banning hate speech over the telephone or Internet.

 In a vote of 153 to 136, the majority Harper government supported a private member’s bill from Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth that would scrap Section 13 of the human rights code, which deals with complaints regarding “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”

This is a good thing, and the excesses of what happened in Canada should be top of mind if we consider any initiatives to “control” speech on the Internet here. People should face consequences for speech that causes actual harm such as economic or reputation loss (defamation), violence (Crimes Act) but trying too regulate political opinions – even extreme ones, is not good.

Storseth said the current human rights code allows too many frivolous cases to proceed against citizens, when the Criminal Code already covers hate speech that could generate harm against an individual or group.

Exactly – the focus should be on speech that generates actual harm.

Acts of hate speech are serious crimes that should be investigated by police officers, not civil servants, he said, and the cases should be handled by “real judges and real lawyers,” instead of a quasi-judicial body such as the human rights commission.

I’m not quite so sangine about the Police investigating. In the UK there have been some horrendous cases where school kids are prosecuted for using racially insensitive language.

New Democrat public-safety critic Randall Garrison said Wednesday that, due to the large number of hate crimes, the human-rights commission needs to have the power to combat the issue online and force individuals and groups to remove websites containing hateful speech.

I’m against this, even a ban on “hate speech” would see certain left blogs be banned :-)

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Keep the Internet open

May 29th, 2012 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

An op-ed in the NY Times by father of the Internet Vint Cerf:

The Internet stands at a crossroads. Built from the bottom up, powered by the people, it has become a powerful economic engine and a positive social force. But its success has generated a worrying backlash. Around the world, repressive regimes are putting in place or proposing measures that restrict free expression and affect fundamental rights. The number of governments that censor Internet content has grown to 40 today from about four in 2002. And this number is still growing, threatening to take away the Internet as you and I have known it.

It is no longer only China and Iran.

Some of these steps are in reaction to the various harms that can be and are being propagated through the network. Like almost every major infrastructure, the Internet can be abused and its users harmed. We must, however, take great care that the cure for these ills does not do more harm than good. The benefits of the open and accessible Internet are nearly incalculable and their loss would wreak significant social and economic damage.

Not all censorship of the Internet is done for bad intentions. UK PM David Cameron said he wanted the ability to turn off Twitter as it may have been used by criminals during the London rioting. Now that may be with good intentions, but then Iran would be turning it off during the pro-democracy protests.

Against this background, a new front in the battle for the Internet is opening at the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations organization that counts 193 countries as its members. It is conducting a review of the international agreements governing telecommunications and aims to expand its regulatory authority to the Internet at a summit scheduled for December in Dubai.

This should be of great concern to everyone. The reason the Internet has had the success it has had, is because it grew under the open processes of the IETF and IAB, not the bureaucratic monstrosity known as the ITU.

Such a move holds potentially profound — and I believe potentially hazardous — implications for the future of the Internet and all of its users.

Quite simply, it must not be allowed to happen.

Each of the 193 members gets a vote, no matter its record on fundamental rights — and a simple majority suffices to effect change. 

Total up all the countries that are not true democracies, and you get close to a majority.

Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated the goal of Russia and its allies as “establishing international control over the Internet” through the I.T.U. And in September 2011, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan submitted a proposal for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security” to the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of establishing government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.”

China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – what could go wrong.

Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations.

Governments could use the domain name system to force compliance with their censorship desires.

The decisions taken in Dubai in December have the potential to put government handcuffs on the Net. To prevent that — and keep the Internet open and free for the next generations — we need to prevent a fundamental shift in how the Internet is governed.

I hope the NZ Government takes this issue seriously and makes sure we advocate as strongly as we can that the ITU should have no role in Internet governance,, beyond its current mandate with telecommunication standards.

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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, free speech 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.

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Freedom of Speech in the UK

April 15th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn blogs:

On March 8, British teenager Azhar Ahmed posted the following to his Facebook account:

People gassin about the deaths of soldiers! What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.. The women who have been raped.. The children who have been sliced up..! Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmless familys. All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL! THE LOWLIFE FOKKIN SCUM! gotta problem go cry at your soliders grave & wish him hell because that where he is going..

For posting this, he was arrested and charged with a “racially aggravated public order offence”. That charge was dropped when he appeared in court – perhaps because even the Yorkshire police could understand that “British soldiers” are not a racial group – and instead substituted with one of using a telecommunications network to send a grossly offensive message. He will face trial in July, and it is unclear what sentence he may face.

Now I agree that one should not face court charges for saying offensive things on the Internet. The threshold should be if you are promoting actual violence or crimes. So for example saying “I hate Jews” should not get you in court (it should get you on the front page of the newspaper though) but saying “We should kill the Jews” should get you in court. Saying “I wish all Jews were dead” doesn’t meet the criminal threshold though (in my opinion).

However it is a pity that Idiot/Savant did not also mention this story, which I blogged on. Also in the UK, a 21 year old student was actually jailed (not just charged) for 56 days for gloating when a black footballer collapsed on the field, saying he hoped he was dead, and also using racial abuse when people challenged him.

Now both these cases had defendents say pretty offensive stuff. I don’t think either should be in court. But does Idiot/Savant think it is okay to send people to jail for saying something racist, but wrong to charge people for saying all British soliders should die and go to hell?

My suspicion is that I/S is more a defender of offensive speech he politically agrees with, than of all offensive speech. If not, I welcome his views on the above case.

UPDATE: A few people have said I am being unfair to say that I suspect I/S is more a defender of speech he agrees with.  He has often defended the right of people like David Irving to be heard, so my comment was unfair and I retract it with apologies.

However I do think that considering how often he posts on this issue, his lack of comment on the UK jail sentence for a racist offensive tweet was unusual. As he did not condemn the jailing, I thought he might actually support “hate speech” laws as many on the left do (which motivated the post – to challenge him on this issue), but having checked he blogged in 2004 that he did not, so really the post was un-necessary.

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Enemies of the Internet

March 13th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Reporters without Borders has released its list of countries that are enemies of the Internet. I’ve added on the nature of the Government and/or Head of State:

  • Bahrain – monarchy
  • Belarus – presidential republic, president is former communist now statist
  • Burma – presidential republic, pro-military junta
  • China – Marxist-Leninist single-party state (officially)
  • Cuba – republic communist state
  • Iran – Islamic republic
  • North Korea – Juche (Marxist-Leninist) unitary single-party state,
  • Saudi Arabia – Islamic absolute monarchy
  • Syria – Baathist single party state, Arab Socialist Baath Party
  • Turkmenistan – presidential republic, single party state, former communist
  • Uzbekistan – presidential republic, former communist
  • Vietnam – Marxist/Leninist single-party state

My conclusions are that enemies of the Internet tend to be communists,  former communists, Islamists and absolute monarchs.

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It’s a Free/Unfree Thing

March 12th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A further article from the CIS paper – You Can’t Say That! Freedom of Speech and the Invisible Muzzle.

This one is by Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist with the Australian.

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.

— Mark Twain

It’s tempting to assume that the PC-crowd is having us on. How else can we explain the Seattle school’s decision last year to rename Easter eggs as ‘Spring spheres,’ worrying that a chocolate egg might remind, or even worse, offend kids by alluding to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sesame Street has been sanitised too: episodes made between 1969 and 1974 are screened with an adults-only warning. Enid Blyton has not been spared either. To appease the ‘don’t smack children’ lobby, Dame Slap is now Dame Snap. Feminists have been accommodated: Julian and Dick are now required to share household chores with the female characters. The gay lobby has not been forgotten either: the word ‘gay’ has been replaced with ‘happy.’ Bessie has been renamed Beth to avoid any connotations to slavery. Blyton’s golliwogs have been banished. And The Lion King has been decreed full of racist and homophobic messages. According to Carolyn Newberger of Harvard University, those good-for-nothing hyenas are urban blacks who speak in gay clichés.

Surely, they’re having us on with this PC stuff.

But, of course, we know they are not having us on. And they are not imbeciles. They are smart people who really mean it. Smart because the PC virus has infected so much of what we do, what we read, how we live, how we think.

It’s the thinking part that should trouble us the most.

Earlier this year, Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama, published a new edition of Mark Twain’s classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The word ‘nigger,’ which appears more than 200 times in the book, has been replaced with ‘slave.’ The professor worried that the word would offend too many students and turn them off from reading the book.

What the good professor doesn’t seem to know is that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn satirises Southern prejudices of the time. It is an anti-racist book. If you mess with the power of Twain’s words, you mess with the power of Twain’s message. If school children are to really think about American history and the Deep South, they need to read about ‘niggers.’ The history and the language are confronting.

Great literature unsettles us. It forces us to think about our reactions. If we’re offended, we think about why we’re offended.

By denying us the ability to think, political correctness is a heresy for those who are truly committed to liberalism. Political correctness tells people what to think. And it seeps into society, so often without us even paying attention to the subliminal message.

Because the purveyors of PC are not imbeciles but smart people armed with clever tricks, we need to pay attention.

The Left in Australia are claiming that those who raise questions about multiculturalism, immigration and the relationship between Islam and modernity have blood on our hands. I say ‘our hands’ because I have been named as someone who bears some responsibility for what happened in Oslo. Others complicit in the mass murder include Keith Windschuttle, Andrew Bolt, and Geoffrey Blainey.

Here, murder is used as a muzzle to close down free speech. And this is just the latest addition to what is a growing list of tactics to curb free speech, and even worse, to stifle genuine enquiry and independent thinking.

Here are some of their tricks.

The emotional hoax

The Left are armed with a range of emotionally charged tools to immediately close down discussion about immigration or border control. Call your opponents racists and point to xenophobia in the community. Opponents are not just wrong, they’re evil. Their views should not be aired in a civilised society.

John Howard copped this for years. When the Prime Minister Gillard called for an open debate about these issues last year, she was accused of whipping up the racists within Australia.

But remember this: the stifling political correctness that rejected an open debate about immigration in the early 1990s fuelled the emergence and popularity of Pauline Hanson.

 The victim game

The victim game has been fuelled by two recent developments. We now live in an age when ‘feelings’ are treated as a measurement of moral values, so you measure your feelings against the feelings of others to determine morality. Hence, we live in what author Monica Ali calls ‘the marketplace of outrage,’ where groups vie for victimhood status, each claiming their feelings have been hurt more than others.

Secondly, the focus on vulnerability is used to justify curbing Enlightenment values such as freedom of expression. The minority simply have to utter the word ‘phobia’ to silence all debate.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed a familiar opera of Muslim oppression.

Act I starts with something simple. Perhaps it’s a book called The Satanic Verses. Or a silly Danish cartoon. Or a film called Submission. Or a cheeky episode of South Park stating that Mohammad is the only guy free from ridicule.

Then the libretto comes: Muslims scream about hurt feelings. The drama builds in Act II: death threats are issued, flags and effigies are burnt, maybe even a few boycotts are imposed, and then we hear that great aria of all accusations—Islamophobia.

Act III is the most depressing. The West capitulates, preferring the path of least resistance to launching a staunch defence of freedom of expression.

Hence then US President George H. Bush declared both Salman Rushdie’s book and the fatwa against Rushdie as equally offensive.

Hence, 20 years later, newspapers across the globe chose not to publish the Danish cartoons and Western politicians muttered about protecting hurt feelings.

Hence, last year, Comedy Central, the channel that broadcasts South Park, inserted audio bleeps and large blocks of black that read CENSORED at the very mention or image of Mohammad to prevent more hurt feelings.

And as the clever guys at South Park lamented, ‘like, we lost.’

And we, too, may lose. If we don’t even recognise the tactics, let alone the consequences, we are left with a new norm of anticipatory surrender and self-censorship.

The legal route

The victim game works so well because it is augmented by laws: the apparatus of the state is used to censor free speech.

The prosecutions are mounting: politician Geert Wilders in Holland, writers Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant in Canada. And in Australia, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt is defending a claim by a group of Aborigines that he ‘offended, insulted and humiliated’ them in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The PC crowd is clever and they’re not having us on. They know that there are no useful legal tests about hurt feelings and inciting hate. They enact nice-sounding laws, build bureaucracies, and wait for them to blossom and bludgeon free speech. They have effectively co-opted Islamic style oppression to prohibit debate, be it about Islam or anything else they wish to fence off from free speech.

Death by silence

The other trick is to quietly exclude certain people from the national discourse. It is best summed up by the German word totschweigtaktik.

To be ‘totsched’ is to be subjected to death by silence—books, ideas, people that challenge the status quo are simply ignored.

Shelly Gare wrote about it in Quadrant last year. Those who are totsched find ‘their efforts left to expire soundlessly like a butterfly in a jar.’

It happened to Orwell when he wrote his 1938 classic Homage to Catalonia, which addressed Stalinist Russia’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. The left-wing literati simply ignored it. By the time Orwell died in 1950, barely 1,500 copies had been sold.

The same death by silence was used to ignore Australian writers such as Chris Kenny, who challenged the secret women’s business behind the Hindmarsh Island affair. It was used when author Kate Jennings aimed her fire at the sisterhood, post-modernism, and women’s studies.

It’s used by those who tell us that climate change will destroy us all if we do not act immediately. The sceptics are being totsched. Opposing views? What opposing views?

 The bipartisanship racket

Governments have their own tactics. In recent times in Australia, those with poor ideas and even worse policies have resorted to what is best described as the bipartisanship racket to fence themselves off from criticism on a range of topics.

The former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called for bipartisanship on Indigenous policies. It soon became clear that what he meant was supine obedience to his agenda. There could be no disagreement with the roll-back of the NT intervention. If you dared to disagree, you were immediately charged with politicising the issue. Imagine if these kinds of calls from those defending the status quo had managed to shut out the ideas of people like Noel Pearson.

The Rudd government tried the bipartisanship scam again with climate change and immigration. Each time the aim was the same: to place limits on free debate, to get opponents to rubber-stamp rather than question government policy.

No, the very last thing we want is bipartisanship when it is used so blatantly to stifle dissent and vest moral authority in one voice.

Consensus con

Another trick emerged from Canberra last year from the cloistered offices of the federal Treasury. Treasury boss Ken Henry demanded a supporting consensus from academic economists on major policy issues such as the emissions trading system and the equally ill-fated super profits tax on mining companies.

In one breath, Henry said that he supported the ‘contest of ideas’ and that there were ‘occasions on which economists might, at least for a period, put down their weapons and join a consensus.’

It sends shudders up your spine. A senior bureaucrat—who crafts a policy that, according to many, threatened to undermine Australia’s economy—demands obedience from economists. Henry lost that debate. And that’s the point of free debate. Ideas are not finessed through consensus or bipartisanship. Debate is the single most effective mechanism for disposing of bad ideas.

 Why vigilance?

The aim of political correctness is to tell people what to think and stop them from thinking for themselves. If we are serious about defending free speech, vigilance demands that we look out for the tricks and test the trickery against first principles. The alternative means more moral disorientation and a death wish for the West.

The principles are clear enough: free speech is not a Left/Right thing, as Mark Steyn said. It’s a free/unfree thing. You don’t get to cry in favour of free speech just to defend those with whom you agree. And free speech must include the right to offend. If we prosecute offensive opinions, we encourage ever more ridiculous claims to protection. We fuel that marketplace of outrage. And we end up shutting down the true genius of modern Western civilisation—the contest of ideas.

But, of course, free speech and the real value of debate depend on one more important principle: people genuinely listening to each other.

There are two more articles to come.

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Thuggery in Auckland

March 11th, 2012 at 1:26 pm by David Farrar

Brogan Powlesland blogs:

“Our most valuable asset is the right to protest.” – Matt McCarten

Yesterday, I found out what this actually means in the eyes of some unionist protesters. I have always believed in the right to protest, despite not always agree with what is being protested. Heck, most of the time I strongly disagree with the protest message, but so long as the protesters don’t directly harm anyone, I tend to be fine with it. At the March 10 Save Our Ports protest, organised by the Council of Trade Unions, I found that this feeling is not always mutual. 

I am reminded that there is no virtue in wanting to protect popular speech. The virtue is in defending the rights of free speech for people whose message you totally disagree with. Hence I have supported the right of holocaust denier David Irving to come to NZ, and speak.

So David (former AoC Auckland President) and I decided to take to the streets with placards, joining the march from the opposite side of the road that they were on. My placard read “Union Strikes, Efficiency up 25%” and David’s read “Who still has their jobs? Helen Kelly and Garry Parsloe”. I had made a decision from the start that this would be a silent protest, as I knew we would be shouted at and thought that we would have been just as bad as them if we shouted profanities back. 

As predicted, during the march we were screamed at, being called things such as “Fascist pigs”, “f**ken scumbags”, and “NAZIs”. Although I was expecting people to shout at us, I was not expecting that extreme verbal abuse. Those are names I would never use to describe anyone, simply because they are extremist and are offensive to both the person you’re shouting at, and the people who were victims to the NAZIs. I would think that the people who like to think they fight most for so called freedom would understand that.*Sigh* I guess not.

While distasteful, free speech even extends to the marchers screaming Nazi names at Brogan and David.

Into about fifteen minutes of marching, we were rushed by a bunch of protesters. One of the protesters knocked my arm and stole my placard, one punched David in the back of his head and stole his placard. They both ripped the placards and chucked the pieces onto the road, receiving cheers from many of the marchers. One of the protesters had been filming it, and came up to us, narrating his ‘film’ by continuously calling us “f**king fascists” and “fascist pigs”, telling us that we were going to be famous on Facebook. Within about 30 seconds, one of the police officers that had been on duty came running and that seemed to be the cue for the protesters to run back into the mob.

The irony is that it was the protesters who were being fascists, with their violent suppression of messages they disagreed with.

The police officer, instead of pursuing the people who had offended, came to ask us to leave. He had seen everything, but told us that there were too many protesters for them to protect our right to protest. At the time, I was quite shaken. I was in no mood or state of mind to argue with the officer, and so we left peacefully. Although David and I have protested and counter-protested before, this was the first time things had become physical, which is something we thought New Zealand was above. It seems we were wrong there too.

The Police Commissioner should instruct the Auckland Police that the next time this happens, the appropriate response is to call for more police officers to protect the rights of peaceful protest.

After the march on that part of the street was finished, David and I returned to pick up the remains of the placards. Although we knew we were not the cause of the litter, we still thought that we shouldn’t leave it lying around the road and footpath. During this time, thankfully, drivers were actually relatively friendly and respectful of what we were doing. A few protesters coming back from the Vector Arena were not though. We again were verbally abused with the same extremist labels. One protester in particular encouraged cars to run us over, and said if they didn’t, he would do it himself.

What a pity Brogan and David didn’t have a friend along with a video recorder. It would be very interesting to identify those who resort to violence to suppress speech they disagree with.

I recall an anti-EFA march in Wellington. A handful of (mainly) Young Labour activists did a counter-protest. When we got to Parliament we actually offered them a chance to speak to have their view heard. A stark contrast.

Hat Tip: Whale Oil

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