Press editor on free speech

May 28th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A good column by Press Editor Joanna Norris on free speech:

But from time-to-time issues arise that quietly threaten the rights of New Zealanders to express themselves.

On such threat is a rising tide of offence-taking and indignation, particularly in social media where a discussion can move swiftly and viciously, influencing views and actions.

Smart young Australian philosopher Richard King, author of On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, says increasingly people are claiming it is their right not to be offended. People are not seeking freedom from offence but the freedom to ensure their view prevails, ie they are arguing their right not to be offended overrides the free speech of others.

The echo-chamber of a platform such as Twitter, meanwhile, can silence dissenting views in the face of a vicious mob attack on those viewed to have erred from a ‘right-thinking’ view in the minds of the mob.

The, at times, sanctimonious Twittersphere can be quick to condemn and swift to move on.

But even this presents a conundrum, because members of the  mob are themselves exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

The solutions lie at the heart of the issue itself. Freedom of expression, which underpins media freedom, should be valued and protected. People need to know they are free to state their views, whilst also respecting the rights of others to express theirs, even when those views are not mainstream, or are offensive to a great many people.

Whether you are a fringe activist, member of the power elite or lonely bigot, you have the same right to express yourself. New Zealanders can do this in the knowledge that we are contributing to a marketplace of ideas that can be debated and discussed in a free media. And in doing so, we must all respect the rights of others to have a view different than our own.

Can’t agree more. I wish our Government would do what Tony Abbott did and appoint someone like Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission as a dedicated Free Speech Commissioner.

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The ruin of US colleges

May 22nd, 2015 at 3:15 pm by David Farrar

Kirsten Powers at The Daily Beast writes:

The root of nearly every free-speech infringement on campuses across the country is that someone—almost always a liberal—has been offended or has sniffed out a potential offense in the making. Then, the silencing campaign begins. The offender must be punished, not just for justice’s sake, but also to send the message to anyone else on campus that should he or she stray off the leftist script, they too might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, or even expelled. If the illiberal left can preemptively silence opposing speakers or opposing groups— such as getting a speech or event canceled, or denying campus recognition for a group—even better.

In a 2014 interview with New York magazine, comedian Chris Rock told journalist Frank Rich that he had stopped playing college campuses because of how easily the audiences were offended.

We live in the age of offence, where people think they have a right not to be offended.

Instead, the politically correct university is a world of land mines, where faculty and students have no idea what innocuous comment might be seen as an offense. In December 2014, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, sent an email to the student body in the wake of the outcry over two different grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed African-American men. The subject heading read “All Lives Matter” and the email opened with, “As members of the Smith community we are struggling, and we are hurting.” She wrote, “We raise our voices in protest.” She outlined campus actions that would be taken to “heal those in pain” and to “teach, learn and share what we know” and to “work for equity and justice.”

Shortly thereafter, McCartney sent another email. This one was to apologize for the first. What had she done? She explained she had been informed by students “the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against black people.”

Insane. She had to apologise for saying “all lives matter”.

On today’s campuses, left-leaning administrators, professors, and students are working overtime in their campaign of silencing dissent, and their unofficialtactics of ostracizing, smearing, and humiliation are highly effective. But what is even more chilling—and more far reaching—is the official power they abuse to ensure the silencing of views they don’t like. They’ve invented a labyrinth of anti-free speech tools that include “speech codes,” “free speech zones,” censorship, investigations by campus “diversity and tolerance offices,” and denial of due process.

And we saw this in Australia where some staff and student groups basically blackmailed the university into revoking the appointment of Bjørn Lomborg, as he doesn’t buy into their view that the world is doomed.

Or how about the Brandeis professor who was found guilty of racial harassment—with no formal hearing—for explaining, indeed criticizing, the word “wetbacks.” Simply saying the word was crime enough. Another professor, this time at the University of Central Florida, was suspended for making a joke in class equating his tough exam questions to a “killing spree.” A student reported the joke to the school’s administration. The professor promptly received a letter suspending him from teaching and banning him from campus. He was reinstated after the case went public.

And all this in the land of the 1st amendment.

The list goes on and on. The University of Wisconsin-Stout at one point had an Information Technology policy prohibiting the distribution of messages that included offensive comments about a list of attributes including hair color.

Get suspended for making a ginga joke!

One student alleged that when the professor changed her capitalization of the word “indigenous” to lowercase he was disrespecting her ideological point of view.

And he was accused of racial microaggression and suspended.

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Free speech is not free of consequences

April 30th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

DESCRIBING the sacking of SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre over offensive tweets about ANZAC Day as an attack on free speech is “absurd”, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner has argued.

On Saturday evening, the high-profile SBS soccer reporter tweeted a number of “highly inappropriate and disrespectful comments” about the ANZACs and Australia’s involvement in numerous wars.

“Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan,” Mr McIntyre tweeted to his 30,000 followers.

He described Australians celebrating ANZAC Day as “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers”, and accused Australia and its allies of the “largest single-day terrorist attacks in history” in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So the Axis powers were the victims in WWII and the ANZACs were rapists in his world view.

Since then, many journalists have come out in support of Mr McIntyre, and a Change.org petition calling on SBS to reinstate him and issue an apology has gained more than 1500 signatures.

Writing in The Australian newspaper today, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said Mr McIntyre had not been censored as his tweets did not break any law.

“Decrying McIntyre’s dismissal as a free speech violation and censorship is absurd,” he wrote. “McIntyre was free to tweet his bile before he worked for SBS, while he worked for SBS and now that he no longer works for SBS.

“SBS simply decided it didn’t want to be associated with him. No one is guaranteed a job. Employers are not compelled to put up with behaviour that harms their public reputation.”

Exactly.

Accountability is essential to ensure free speech is exercised with respect for others, he said, adding that the issue is not free speech but “how an increasingly hysterical culture led by social media is resulting in people losing their jobs”.

“McIntyre is not alone. Had he tweeted content interpreted as homophobic, racist or sexist, some would be calling on SBS to sack him, not tweeting ‘free speech’,” Mr Wilson wrote.

They very same people I suspect.

“Perhaps McIntyre’s sacking will be a lesson that always calling for retribution against opinions you disagree with is a double-edged sword that can slay your enemies as well as your friends.”

I doubt the lesson will be learnt. In NZ we see now regular attempts by some on the left to get Hosking and Henry sacked for their views – by trying to induce advertiser boycotts.

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A worthy winner

April 29th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

A debate has erupted over the decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

It was at the offices of Charlie Hebdo that an assault by Muslim extremists in January left 12 people dead, including the publication’s top editor and a number of prominent cartoonists.

How could anyone think that it shouldn’t be Charlie Hebdo? 12 people died because they stood up for free speech and satire.

PEN says on its website that for 90 years, its mission has been “to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas and literatures of others.”

Cartoonists gunned down for expressing their views sound like worthy recipients of the award.

Exactly.

Not according to six novelists, who announced they were stepping down as literary hosts of PEN’s gala dinner in New York City on May 5.

Their beef?

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom of speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” Peter Carey, one of the protesting writers, said in an email interview with The New York Times. He said, “All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

This makes me want to vomit. The six novelists basically blame the victims.

Another of the dissenting writers, Rachel Kushner, lambasted Charlie Hebdo for its “cultural intolerance” and its embrace of “a kind of forced secular view.”

A forced secular view? If only? Atheists are not gunning down people who mock secularism. It is the Muslim extremists who believe it is their holy duty to stamp out any non comforming view.

To its credit, PEN is hanging tough. This is a well-deserved award, and the critics are off the mark. Freedom of expression would hardly be a big deal if it were only the freedom to be politically correct, to express opinions that are weak tea, tepid sentiments that everyone can embrace.

Too often only politically correct speech is deemed worthy of defending.

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The limit to free speech

March 5th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

A RADICAL Islamic preacher has been arrested in Norway after praising last month’s deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris.

The Iraqi Kurd preacher known as Mullah Krekar said in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday that “those who draw caricatures of Mohammed must die”.

Krekar, who was only freed from prison late last month, was arrested on Thursday night on accusations of inciting crime, police said.

“I am obviously happy with what happened in Paris,” the 58-year-old said in the interview with Norwegian channel NRK.

Krekar also responded “yes” when asked if he believed those who carried out the attack were heroes.

When a cartoonist “tramples on our dignity, our principles and our faith, he must die,” he said.

“Those who do not respect 30 per cent of the Earth’s population do not deserve to live.”

I’m a proponent of free speech, but there are limits. Advocating and inciting death to those who don’t subscribe to your religious beliefs is that limit.

While courts have upheld the ruling, Norwegian law bars him from being deported to Iraq, where he risks the death penalty.

A pity.

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Where are the riots and murders?

February 16th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The organiser of a street art festival is outraged Canterbury Museum is ignoring his request to pull a controversial T-shirt from its exhibition, which is part of the event.

Spectrum street art festival director George Shaw is distancing himself and the festival from the T-shirt. He is upset the museum ignored his early warnings to consult with stakeholders before deciding to include the garment.

T-Shirts Unfolding is a big part of the Spectrum festival and features 1000 T-shirts – including the Vestal Masturbation, which shows an image of a masturbating nun while on the reverse it has the phrase “Jesus is a c…”.

Museum director Anthony Wright is standing firm, saying the museum has no plans to ditch the shirt.

The shirt is offensive and obscene. Canterbury Museum though has the right to display it. There is no requirement in NZ not to upset adherents of a particular religion.

I note however that upset people have responded with letters of complaints and an online petition. Not riots and killings.

The question to Canterbury Museum should be whether they would allow a t-shirt that displayed Mohammed masturbating, and the phrase “Mohammed is a w***er”?

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UK Police lose the plot

February 12th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Independent reports:

A police force was forced to apologise today after one of its officers told a newsagent to hand over the names of four people in the name of community cohesion, after they bought a commemorative edition of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Wiltshire police confirmed that it had deleted the names of the buyers from its system, which were collected after officers toured shops warning newsagents to be vigilant during an “assessment of community tensions” in the sleepy market town following the attacks in the French capital in January.

Appalling. Beyond appalling. You buy Charlie Hebdo and the UK Police put you on a watch list. The Police officers in question should transfer to Saudi Arabia.

Hat Tip: No Right Turn

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Antisemitism should be repugnant but not illegal

January 26th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

European Jewish leaders, backed by a host of former EU heads of state and government, are to call for pan-European legislation outlawing antisemitism amid a sense of siege and emergency feeding talk of a mass exodus of Europe’s oldest ethnic minority.

A panel of four prestigious international experts on constitutional law backed by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) have spent three years consulting widely and drafting a 12-page document on “tolerance”. They are lobbying to have it converted into law in the 28 countries of the EU.

The proposal would outlaw antisemitism as well as criminalising a host of other activities deemed to be violating fundamental rights on specious religious, cultural, ethnic and gender grounds.

These would include banning the burqa, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, polygamy, denial of the Holocaust and genocide generally, criminalising xenophobia, and creating a new crime of “group libel” – public defamation of ethnic, cultural or religious groups.

I’m against this. Unless speech against a group is of a nature that it is advocating violence or similar, then it should not be illegal.

The answer to bad speech is good speech, not banning bad speech.

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Adam Smith institute on standing up to bullies

January 12th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Sam Bowman at the Adam Smith Institute makes the point:

Bullies succeed by making their victims fear them. The bully may be stronger than the victim, but he does not constantly use force against them. It is the fear of violence or humiliation that makes victims act in the way the bully wants them to. …

Terrorism often operates in the same way. Very few terrorists could ever hope to win in a full-scale war against their victims, so instead they do shocking, frightening things. Yesterday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices was a very significant example of this, because the terrorists’ apparent goals (‘avenging the Prophet’ for blasphemous cartoons) seem ridiculously trivial compared to the lengths they were willing to go to to achieve them.

It is now clear that Western journalists who blaspheme against Islam may be murdered where they work. And most Western journalists don’t really want to blaspheme against Islam anyway. It’s rude, and it’s rude against a group that does not have much power in the West. …

But if a bully tells you not to do something, sometimes you should do it even if you didn’t really want to do it anyway. Defiance of the bully is very important to rob him of his power over you, and – just as important – to show to others that bullying is not effective.

And specifically:

Simply talking about how unafraid we are of terrorism is an empty, weak reaction.Cartoons that show the power of pencils are worthless. No Jihadi is disturbed by any of this. What disturbs them is to show in our actions that they do not have the bully’s power over us. 

Media who refuse to publish the cartoons are showing the bullies, that bullying works.

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NYT blog on blasphemy

January 11th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A blog at the NY Times by Ross Douthat:

1) The right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order.

2) There is no duty to blaspheme, a society’s liberty is not proportional to the quantity of blasphemy it produces, and under many circumstances the choice to give offense (religious and otherwise) can be reasonably criticized as pointlessly antagonizing, needlessly cruel, or simply stupid.

3) The legitimacy and wisdom of criticism directed at offensive speech is generally inversely proportional to the level of mortal danger that the blasphemer brings upon himself.

He goes through each point:

The first point means that laws against blasphemy (usually described these days as “restrictions on hate speech”) are inherently illiberal.

We actually have such laws in NZ. They have not been used since 1922, but we should still scrap them.

The second point means that a certain cultural restraint about trafficking in blasphemy is perfectly compatible with liberal norms, and that there’s nothing illiberal about questioning the wisdom or propriety or decency of cartoons or articles or anything else that takes a crude or bigoted swing at something that a portion of the population holds sacred. …

But our basic liberties are not necessarily endangered when, say, the Anti-Defamation League criticizes Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the Sanhedrin in “The Passion of the Christ” or the Catholic League denounces art exhibits in the style of “Piss Christ,” any more than they’re endangered by the absence of grotesque caricatures of Moses or the Virgin Mary from the pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. Liberty requires accepting the freedom to offend, yes, but it also allows people, institutions and communities to both call for and exercise restraint.

And most people have no desire to say things which will cause offence to believers of a religion, except …

We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more.

The more a group of people want to kill you for a particular form of speech, is the more reason why one should say it.

Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.

Well stated.

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Awful views from Derek Fox

January 9th, 2015 at 7:06 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Fox said on Facebook said the editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had “paid the price” for his “bigotry” and “arrogance”.

The price he should have paid is people not buying his magazine, not execution. Is Fox saying that the victims deserved to be killed because of what they wrote?

Fox wrote that Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier was a “bully” who had abused free speech and was now responsible for the deaths of his colleagues.

Yes he is. So if a white supremacist killed all the staff of Mana magazine, would Derek have been responsible for that?

“The editor of the French magazine has paid the price for his assumption of cultural superiority and arrogance, he was the bully believing he could insult other peoples culture and with impunity and he believed he would be protected in his racism and bigotry by the French state.

Yeah the satirical magazine editor is the bully, not the murdering terrorists.

Fox also misses the point that this magazine insults all cultures and religions. It is a satirical magazine. Does Fox want satire banned at risk of death, or does he think certain religions should be immune from satire?

He continued: “Power cultures all like to use the old chestnut of freedom of speech when they choose to ridicule people who aren’t exactly like them, and mostly they get away with it.”

Yeah that freedom of speech thing is so over-rated. Who needs it eh Derek.

Fox said in this Facebook post that the privilege of free speech brought with it responsibility and ramifications. “These guys liked the privilege but didn’t think they’d be caught up in the ramifications – they were wrong.

“This should serve as a lesson to other people who believe they can use the power they wield by way of dominating the media to abuse and ridicule others they believe to inferior to them – just like [in] this country.”

Fox’s post is vile. He blames the victims and thinks that killing people for satirical cartoons is a food way to teach people a lesson. I’ve had a fair amount of time for Fox in the past, but on this issue I find his writings repugnant.

However unlike Derek, I don’t think people should be killed for writing vile and repugnant things. I think he has a right to do express his views, without being killed for it.

National Party list MP Chris Bishop said it was a “horrific, ridiculous, shameful comment”, adding that supporting freedom of speech was a human right, not “cultural supremacy”.

Free speech is a human right. Not being offended by someone’s speech is not a right.

Fox has stood by his comments, and said that if the magazine had not published gratuitous insults, the victims “would still be alive now”.

If she had just agreed to have sex with him, then she wouldn’t have been raped. That is basically what Fox argues with his victim blaming

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The cartoons that 12 were killed for

January 9th, 2015 at 4:53 am by David Farrar

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It is important not to reward the terrorists by self-censorship. Only if their actions lead to the cartoons getting more widely published, might they stop.

Huffington Post has the full set.

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A murderous attack on free speech

January 8th, 2015 at 3:42 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Two masked gunmen wielding assault rifles have stormed a French satirical magazine on Wednesday (Thursday NZT), shot 12 people dead and injured 10 more, five of them critically.

The killers fled the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, near the Bastille, in a hijacked car.

According to unconfirmed reports on Twitter the gunmen had been shouting “Allahu Akbar” outside the offices, and were later involved in a shootout with police.

At the time of the attack the magazine was said to be holding an editorial meeting on an Islam-themed special edition titled ‘Sharia Hebdo’.

Police said the gunmen shouted “we have avenged the Prophet” after their attack.

This is basically religious fascism – killing people who do not subscribe to their religious tenets. These killings will have a chilling impact on media around the world – who will self-censor in fear of similar executions.

A firebomb attack gutted the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always courted controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders, in November 2011 after it put an image of the Prophet Mohammad on its cover.

What would be a great response is for every media outlet in the western world to publish images of Mohammad, to send a signal that the more you use terror to try and create censorship, the more it will backfire.

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Online speech in the UK

January 5th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

James Bloodworth at The Independent writes:

At some point saying “offensive” things online stopped being a social faux pas and became a potentially criminal act.

Dare to be rude about the wrong person or group and, in a bad parody of Erich Honecker’s East Germany, you could hear the knock on the door in the middle of the night and be dragged off to some dreary police cell for questioning.

I exaggerate of course, but not much: around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online, with around 20 people a day being looked into by the forces of the law, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Appalling. As we consider the remaining stages of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, we should be careful to ensure we don’t end up with the same in NZ.

And so, in a further erosion of free expression, the police in Scotland have this week decided to investigate former Apprentice star and professional controversialist Katie Hopkins for off-colour comments made online about the Scottish nurse who contracted Ebola.

Doing what she is paid handsomely to do (and presumably what got her 291,000 Twitter followers), Hopkins came up with the most grotesque thing she could say about the issue and condensed it into 140 characters, tweeting that the nurse in question was a “sweaty Glaswegian” and referring to Scots as “Jocks”.

In response, the perennially thin-skinned of Twitter cobbled together a 12,000-strong petition demanding that Hopkins be charged over the tweets and handed it to a police force desperately looking to justify its place in the world at a time of falling crime.

There are some sad people outraged on Twitter. And an apple falls to the ground. Both are daily events.

This isn’t only about professional controversialists like Hopkins: what of the woman found guilty of a public order offence for saying that David Cameron had “blood on his hands”? Or Azhar Ahmed, who was prosecuted for an online post mocking the deaths of six British soldiers killed in Afghanistan?

All vile and grossly insensitive certainly; but on balance I think I’m more afraid of the Twitter Stasi and their increasingly zealous police enforcers.

There is no right not to be offended.

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A blow against free speech at Oxford

November 21st, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Just read this article at Vox on how a debate about abortion at Oxford University was cancelled due to protests.

I’m pro-choice but I think it is deplorable that people should try and stop a debate on an issue. The person who got the event cancelled said:

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue.

How appalling. By her logic we should not debate immigration, welfare, or pretty much anything because they are not abstract academic issues. These are the issues we should be debating.

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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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