Just change a few words

July 28th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve changed just a few words in this column saying climate denial should be a crime:

There is no greater crime being perpetuated on future generations than that committed by those who deny the benefits of free trade. The economic consensus is so overwhelming that to argue against it is to perpetuate a dangerous fraud. Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested. The term trade sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.

Meta studies show that 97 per cent of published economists agree that free trade is beneficial for all countries and has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.

All of this might be a strange curiosity if the ramifications weren’t so serious. Whether it is the erosion of wealth, an influx of refugees from protectionist countries, or the economic impacts on our primary industries from tariffs, New Zealand must prepare for some significant realities.

The worst of these problems will impact more greatly on generations to come, but to ignore them now is as unconscionable as it is selfish. It ought be seen as a crime.

One way in which everyday crime can be discouraged is to ensure that “capable guardians” are around to deter criminal activity. When it comes to free trade, the capable guardians are educated members of the public who counteract the deniers.

There may be differing opinions on what policies to pursue, but those who deny that free trade is beneficial ought be shouted down like the charlatans that they are. Or better yet, looked upon with pitiful contempt and completely ignored.

There is no room to sit on the fence and say, “I don’t know if it’s true”. Ignorance of the law excuses no one – and so it is with the laws of economics.

Jails are going to end up very full of all those criminal free trade deniers.

Standing trial for a joke

July 1st, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Paul Gascoigne is to stand trial accused of making a racist joke at a comedy show.

The former England international pleaded not guilty to a racially aggravated offence when he appeared before Dudley magistrates court on Wednesday morning.

The ex-footballer allegedly made the remarks during an evening billed An Audience With Paul Gascoigne at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton on 30 November last year.

He is alleged to have made a joke about a black security guard whom he spotted in a darkened corner of the stage, saying he could not tell “if he is smiling or not”.

And he is standing trial for that? Hopefully if Boris becomes PM he can repeal the laws that makes that possible.

UPDATE: Yes this was written and timed before Boris pulled out. Which means sadly probably no change.

Cartoonist says left are killing satire

June 20th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Drinnan writes:

Cartoonist Bill Leak both delighted and caused offence last week with an Oped piece in “The Australian”  He complained eloquently about “authoritarian barbarians of the New Left” and increasing damage wrought by political correctness.

His comments were:

“Progressive fundamentalists now are trying to dictate what’s permissible when it comes to cracking jokes, just like the barbarians of fundamentalist Islam, cartoonists have found themselves on the frontline. We used to be instinctively anti-authoritarian and cynical, which made it almost impossible to offend us, and was the reason Australia became a breeding ground for great cartoonists. But it’s not any more because, instead of manning the barricades against this plague, our cartoonists, with a few honourable exceptions, rushed to embrace it. As ­George Orwell said: “You cannot be really funny if your main aim is to flatter the comfortable classes.” But they do. They want to be cool, they want to be popular; liked on Facebook, followed on Twitter. So at a time when their duty to ­offend has never been more pressing, they go out of their way to ­appease the offendirati by making their cartoons as inoffensive, as ­insipid, as possible.”

Sadly very true.

Three threats to free speech

June 6th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Economist says we need to fight back against three threats to free speech. They are:

Free speech is under attack in three ways. First, repression by governments has increased. Several countries have reimposed cold-war controls or introduced new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia enjoyed a free-for-all of vigorous debate. Under Vladimir Putin, the muzzle has tightened again. All the main television-news outlets are now controlled by the state or by Mr Putin’s cronies. Journalists who ask awkward questions are no longer likely to be sent to labour camps, but several have been murdered.

Sadly many countries do not have free speech or free media.

Second, a worrying number of non-state actors are enforcing censorship by assassination. Reporters in Mexico who investigate crime or corruption are often murdered, and sometimes tortured first. Jihadists slaughter those they think have insulted their faith. When authors and artists say anything that might be deemed disrespectful of Islam, they take risks. Secular bloggers in Bangladesh are hacked to death in the street (see article); French cartoonists are gunned down in their offices. The jihadists hurt Muslims more than any others, not least by making it harder for them to have an honest discussion about how to organise their societies.

This is a growing threat and leads to a lot of self-censorship.  A newspaper should treat a cartoon of Mohammed in the same way as a cartoon of Jesus. But we know that only one of these would result in death threats, so newspapers self-censor.

Third, the idea has spread that people and groups have a right not to be offended. This may sound innocuous. Politeness is a virtue, after all. But if I have a right not to be offended, that means someone must police what you say about me, or about the things I hold dear, such as my ethnic group, religion, or even political beliefs. Since offence is subjective, the power to police it is both vast and arbitrary.

Nevertheless, many students in America and Europe believe that someone should exercise it. Some retreat into the absolutism of identity politics, arguing that men have no right to speak about feminism nor whites to speak about slavery. Others have blocked thoughtful, well-known speakers, such as Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from being heard on campus (see article).

I’m glad they included this, as it is a huge and growing issue, especially on campuses.

The threat to free speech on Western campuses is very different from that faced by atheists in Afghanistan or democrats in China. But when progressive thinkers agree that offensive words should be censored, it helps authoritarian regimes to justify their own much harsher restrictions and intolerant religious groups their violence.

And they do.

Blasphemy laws are an anachronism. A religion should be open to debate. Laws against hate speech are unworkably subjective and widely abused. Banning words or arguments which one group finds offensive does not lead to social harmony. On the contrary, it gives everyone an incentive to take offence—a fact that opportunistic politicians with ethnic-based support are quick to exploit.

Incitement to violence should be banned. However, it should be narrowly defined as instances when the speaker intends to goad those who agree with him to commit violence, and when his words are likely to have an immediate effect. Shouting “Let’s kill the Jews” to an angry mob outside a synagogue qualifies. Drunkenly posting “I wish all the Jews were dead” on an obscure Facebook page probably does not.

Very good examples. The response to the latter should be exposure and criticism, not criminal prosecution.

However, any public college, and any college that aspires to help students grow intellectually, should aim to expose them to challenging ideas. The world outside campus will often offend them; they must learn to fight back using peaceful protests, rhetoric and reason.

These are good rules for everyone. Never try to silence views with which you disagree. Answer objectionable speech with more speech. Win the argument without resorting to force. And grow a tougher hide.

Hear hear.

An offensive t-shirt should get you criticised, not arrested

June 1st, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The 50-year-old from Worcester, England was kicked out of a pub for his offensive shirt on the weekend.

His shirt said the disaster was “Gods [sic] way of helping RENTOKILL”.

Rentokill is a pest control company.

The Hillsborough disaster left 96 dead and 766 injured as fans crammed into an overcrowded section of the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield.

The victims were mainly Liverpool supporters.

A picture of Grange’s shirt was posted on Facebook and Twitter along with his home address.

Social media users have taken delight in flooding his home with deliveries.

But it is unclear how many of the items have actually ended up on his doorstep.

Mr Grange is a moron. He deserves criticism and worse. Not at all funny to celebrate the deaths of 96 people.

Matters got worse for Grange when he was arrested.

A statement from Worcester Police confirmed he had been taken into custody on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time).

“The man… was arrested by officers this morning… on suspicion that with intent he displayed writing which was threatening, abusive, insulting and caused harassment, alarm or distress,” the statement said.

But in no way should this be a criminal matter. An insulting t-shirt should not be a crime.

Not free speech on private billboards

May 18th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A spat has broken out between two political rivals over the use of a prominent Hamilton billboard in the lead-up to October’s council elections.

City Councillor and mayoral hopeful Rob Pascoe has accused fellow Councillor Andrew King of stymieing free speech after he rejected a request by Pascoe to hire a billboard above King’s Frankton business.

King owns several billboards on the corner of Greenwood Street and Killarney Road, as well as at other sites in the city.

Pascoe made inquiries to hire a billboard above King’s business during the month of September as part of Pascoe’s mayoral campaign.

However, his bid was rejected on the grounds the billboard was “politically incompatible” with King’s own views.

Pascoe was told King’s other billboards were also off-limits.

He has since booked billboard space in Whitiora and along Anzac Parade in Hamilton East.

“I guess it’s disappointing as I have a limited budget and booking billboards at three different sites would have given me coverage over the city,” Pascoe said.

“I feel Andrew is negating free speech by not allowing me to use his billboards.

No he isn’t. That’s ridiculous. King owns those billboards. They are his personal property. You have no more right to put your own skins on them than you do to stick up a hoarding in his backyard or on his car.

A Penny Bright campaign we might all support

April 22nd, 2016 at 2:56 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:

While Auckland mayoral candidate and ex-Xero NZ boss Victoria Crone appears to have backed off from a battle over billboards with Auckland Council, fellow candidate Penny Bright has decided to take up cudgels on her rival’s – and ratepayers’ – behalf. …

Although Ms Crone seems to have conceded defeat on the issue, however, perennial rates activist and mayoral Penny Bright has signalled her intent to battle the billboard bylaw, which she sees as a matter of freedom of expression.

“So here we have Auckland Transport not telling us where they’re putting our money but they do want to tell us where and when we can put our signs,” Ms Bright says.

“I’m actually prepared to fight it on the basis of the Local Government Act 2002 s.155 (3) – that Council bylaws cannot be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act 1990.

“If it had been previously ok for years for individuals to display election hoardings on their private property at any time they liked, what’s changed?

“Who died and made Auckland Transport ‘the boss’ regarding the lawful rights of citizens to freedom of expression?

I agree. The Council and AT can make signs for their own property but it is ridiculous that they ban people from putting up election signs on their own property or on commercial hire sites.

A law Germany should get rid of

April 18th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cleared the way for the prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whose poem mocking Turkey’s president has become the centerpiece of a clash between Germany’s free-speech traditions and the government’s efforts to safeguard its important relations with Turkey.

In a news conference Friday, Merkel emphasized that it will now be up to German courts to decide whether Böhmermann is guilty of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But critics — including members of her own government — have described it as a betrayal of values protecting open expression.

“In a country under the rule of law, it is not up to the government to decide,” Merkel said. “Prosecutors and courts should weight personal rights against the freedom of press and art.” …

In her statement Friday, Merkel tried to appease critics by announcing that she would seek to repeal the controversial German law against insulting heads of state.

They should repeal the law. Heads of State are exactly the sort of people who should be able to be insulted, not protected.

Another university retreats from free speech

March 31st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Breitbart reports:

Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos has been banned by his own alma mater, the University of Manchester, from participating in a debate on campus about free speech.

Manchester’s student union also banned Yiannopoulos’s debate opponent, Julie Bindel, from discussing whether modern feminism has a problem with censorship. Yiannopoulos briefly attended Manchester as a Philosophy undergraduate before dropping out to take up a place at Cambridge.

According to their announcement, the student union believes that Yiannopoulos and Bindel could compromise the “safety” of students by “inciting hatred.”

As reported by award-winning journalist Victoria Brownworth, the same student union could not come to a decision about whether or not to sanction the terrorist group ISIS, but has decided that a lesbian feminist and a gay conservative columnist represent a threat to student safety. The Manchester Student union also invited a Muslim preacher who called for gay people to be killed.

This is why people are supporting Donald Trump. The backlash against the thought and speech police.

A bad court decision for free speech

March 10th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Winston Peters has won a case that resets the Electoral Commission’s clock on the publication of false election advertising on the internet.

The NZ First leader complained about two false statements published in the two days leading up to, and the day of, the September 2014 general election.

One complaint was against an ACT party candidate’s Chinese language television advertisement misquoting Peters on comments he made about Hong Kong-born businessmen John and Michael Chow’s plans for a 15-storey adult entertainment centre in Auckland.

The other was the Conservatives making misleading statements about NZ First’s alcohol reform policy and not correcting the statements even after the Advertising Standards Authority said they were wrong.

It is an offence to publish a statement known to be false, with the intention of influencing voters, on polling day or on the two days before polling day.

The Electoral Commission refused to act on Peters’ complaint about the two advertisements because it said they were not first published on the banned days.

Peters asked the High Court to clarify the point and has won his case.

In her decision issued on Wednesday Justice Jill Mallon​ said the issue was whether “publish” meant “first published” or first published earlier and continued to be available on the internet on the banned days. 

The judge said the law did not require the statements to be first published on the banned days. The law covered the situation of statements being published earlier and not having been removed.

I rarely criticise a judicial decision interpreting electoral law, but in this case I will.

I think the decision is a significant blow to free speech in election campaigns, and also places little credence on the intent and legislative history of the law.

Most issues of speech in NZ do not involve criminal penalties. We have civil remedies such as defamation, and also institutions such as the ASA, Press Council and BSA who can rule of whether some statements are misleading.

It should be very very rare that you face going to jail for what you say, unless it is of the level such as threatening to kill.

The Electoral Act has one of those rare exemptions, S199A which says:

Every person is guilty of a corrupt practice who, with the intention of influencing the vote of any elector, at any time on polling day before the close of the poll, or at any time on any of the 2 days immediately preceding polling day, publishes, distributes, broadcasts, or exhibits, or causes to be published, distributed, broadcast, or exhibited, in or in view of any public place a statement of fact that the person knows is false in a material particular.

The maximum penalty for being found guilty of a corrupt practice is two years in jail and losing the right to vote for three years.

The intent behind this section is to cover a situation where say the day before the election a pamphlet is delivered to every household saying “A is a child abuser”. There is no time for the person named to refute it, the media to report it, and it has a significant impact on the election. If you are the rival of Candidate A, you might be willing to risk defamation (if you are wealthy) if it will throw the election your way. Hence the reason the section was placed in the Act – to provide a greater deterrent.

The court has ruled that this section can now cover any statement made at any time, so long as it is still publicly available in the two days before the election. This is a significant “change”.  You may now see politicians threatening people with criminal prosecutions for things said months before an election, unless they refuse to take them off the Internet. As a criminal issue, you would need it proven what you said is false, and you knew it was false, and you refused to withdraw it. But in an election campaign it is very common for people to claim that what someone else has said is false. The chilling effect of then threatening you with criminal prosecution is significant.

Peters is someone who does. He threatened me under this very clause when in 2008 I (correctly) pointed out that NZ First had not filed new party rules allowing a candidate (Peters) to be one the list without standing as a electorate candidate (which he was not), and that this raised issues of whether his nomination was valid.

Having S199A applying to statements made before the last 48 hours goes against the idea that this is for stuff where it is too late to respond. If a week before the election you think someone has said something false, you can rebut them and publish why they are wrong. The day before an election you might not be able to.

In view of this court ruling, I think Parliament should look at whether S199A should be amended or repealed. It was written in the days before the Internet and news cycles that are instant, not once a day at 6 pm. If someone says something false 48 hours before the election, you can have a rebuttal published within an hour, and through social media generate a backlash against the person making the false claim that will reach most voters (as media will pick it up also).

There should be consequences for people who make knowingly false claims to influence an election, But those consequences should be electoral, civil or reputational – not criminal.

If this law is left unchanged, then powerful politicians will use to to bully critics to remove criticism of them, with the threat of going to jail if they don’t. Sure many will be defiant, but many will think it is not worth the risk.

So as I said I think the ruling is a very bad one for political speech.

 

FCC Commissioner sees free speech under threat

February 20th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Examiner reports:

The American traditions of free expression and respectful discourse are slipping away, and college campuses and Twitter are prime examples, according to a member of the Federal Communications Commission.

“I think that poses a special danger to a country that cherishes First Amendment speech, freedom of expression, even freedom of association,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told the Washington Examiner. “I think it’s dangerous, frankly, that we don’t see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate.

“Largely what we’re seeing, especially on college campuses, is that if my view is in the majority and I don’t agree with your view, then I have the right to shout you down, disrupt your events, or otherwise suppress your ability to get your voice heard,” Pai added.

Sadly very true.

The limit for free speech

February 3rd, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand’s “good character” requirements could stop the head of a pro-rape group entering the country.

The US-based head of a “neomasculinist” group – who has expressed support for Roast Busters in the past and advocates for legalising rape on private property – is setting up meetings for like-minded men across the globe on Saturday, including in New Zealand.

Advocating rape is when I think it crosses the threshold.

Technically he is advocating the legalisation of rape, rather than raping when it is illegal. But that is a very fine line.

I’m generally for allowing very offensive views to be aired in NZ – such as David Irving’s holocaust denial.

But just as you can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre, advocating for rape crosses that threshold.

A great speech from a professor

November 13th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

This is the class introduction from Professor Mike Adams  at UNC-Wilmington:

Welcome back to class, students! I am Mike Adams your criminology professor here at UNC-Wilmington. Before we get started with the course I need to address an issue that is causing problems here at UNCW and in higher education all across the country. I am talking about the growing minority of students who believe they have a right to be free from being offended. If we don’t reverse this dangerous trend in our society there will soon be a majority of young people who will need to walk around in plastic bubble suits to protect them in the event that they come into contact with a dissenting viewpoint. That mentality is unworthy of an American. It’s hardly worthy of a Frenchman.

Let’s get something straight right now. You have no right to be unoffended. You have a right to be offended with regularity. It is the price you pay for living in a free society. If you don’t understand that you are confused and dangerously so. In part, I blame your high school teachers for failing to teach you basic civics before you got your diploma. Most of you went to the public high schools, which are a disaster. Don’t tell me that offended you. I went to a public high school.

Of course, your high school might not be the problem. It is entirely possible that the main reason why so many of you are confused about free speech is that piece of paper hanging on the wall right over there. Please turn your attention to that ridiculous document that is framed and hanging by the door. In fact, take a few minutes to read it before you leave class today. It is our campus speech code. It specifically says that there is a requirement that everyone must only engage in discourse that is “respectful.” That assertion is as ludicrous as it is illegal. I plan to have that thing ripped down from every classroom on campus before I retire.

One of my grandfathers served in World War I. My step-grandfather served in World War II. My sixth great grandfather enlisted in the American Revolution when he was only thirteen. These great men did not fight so we could simply relinquish our rights to the enemy within our borders. That enemy is the Marxists who run our public universities. If you are a Marxist and I just offended you, well, that’s tough. I guess they don’t make communists like they used to.

Unbelievably, a student once complained to the Department chairwoman that my mention of God and a Creator was a violation of Separation of Church and State. Let me be as clear as I possibly can: If any of you actually think that my decision to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence in the course syllabus is unconstitutional then you suffer from severe intellectual hernia.

Indeed, it takes hard work to become stupid enough to think the Declaration of Independence is unconstitutional. If you agree with the student who made that complaint then you are probably just an anti-religious zealot. Therefore, I am going to ask you to do exactly three things and do them in the exact order that I specify.

First, get out of my class. You can fill out the drop slip over at James Hall. Just tell them you don’t believe in true diversity and you want to be surrounded by people who agree with your twisted interpretation of the Constitution simply because they are the kind of people who will protect you from having your beliefs challenged or your feelings hurt.

Second, withdraw from the university. If you find that you are actually relieved because you will no longer be in a class where your beliefs might be challenged then you aren’t ready for college. Go get a job building houses so you can work with some illegal aliens who will help you gain a better appreciation of what this country has to offer.

Finally, if this doesn’t work then I would simply ask you to get the hell out of the country. The ever-growing thinned-skinned minority you have joined is simply ruining life in this once-great nation. Please move to some place like Cuba where you can enjoy the company of communists and get excellent health care. Just hop on a leaky boat and start paddling your way towards utopia. You will not be missed.

So refreshing to have someone say there is no right not to be offended.

Professor Adams gets excellent ratings from his students, including those who don’t agree with him.

Freedom of speech dying at universities

October 31st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

From the Adelaide Advertiser:

My experience as a student magazine editor for the past year has shown me that freedom of speech no longer has de facto acceptance on campus. Universities are no longer a place of inquiry or rigorous debate. Academic censorship is rife.

Take Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish environmentalist who sought to establish a research centre at the University of Western Australia and Flinders University. At both institutions he has faced resistance form students who staged protests and leveraged their student bodies to prevent such a centre from being established.

Their rationale? They do not agree with his findings and they’re not prepared to engage in debate.

Lomborg’s situation is strikingly similar to that of Galileo when he posited that Earth revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa. The church was not willing to hear out the argument and simply cast Galileo out.

Absolutely. And Lomborg’s crime wasn’t even the capital offence of climate change denial, but simply having a view that other environmental issues were a better use of spending.

If anything exemplifies the dangers of academic censorship it is the case of Galileo. How do we expect our society to advance when new ideas cannot be discussed because of an unwillingness by some precious, self-centred students?

Sadly they don’t want to be challenged. They only want to hear views they approve of, and want to stop others hearing dissenting views.

These same students also want to limit free expression by mandating the use of “trigger warnings”, as well as censoring books they find uncomfortable or challenging. A “trigger warning” is a device that has emerged in the past two decades that seeks to warn a reader where a post traumatic reaction may be induced based on the content.

This has gone from warning of a discussion about rape to now including things such as ‘‘how many calories are in a food item’’ and “drunk driving’’. The discussion of these things doesn’t actually harm anyone, it’s just that students now demand to live in a cotton-wrapped world.

Great works such as The Great Gatsby, Metamorphoses and Mrs Dalloway have been banned from university reading lists simply because some self-absorbed students find the content emotionally challenging and upsetting.

There is no right not to be offended or even upset.

Dom Post editorial supports free speech

October 1st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Two kinds of liberal politics collided at Victoria University this week, when holidaying Israeli soldiers arrived to speak about their country’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.

That war was disproportionate in every sense, from Israel’s vastly superior military power to the Palestinians’ far larger death toll (2251 Gazans died). It was also miserably familiar – one more act to prolong the hatred and bloodshed in a region already drenched in both.

On the face of it, then, the call by a group of academics and student activists to stop the event had a certain logic. Why should proponents of the war be allowed to talk while many of its victims are dead? And what might they offer that, say, a United Nations report in June, which found suggestions of war crimes on both sides, does not?

Call that one kind of liberalism, one that believes people can be disqualified from even offering their perspective, at least in an official setting, because their actions are so objectionable.

The problem is it’s completely wrong. The better, simpler liberalism is the one that insists on allowing people to say their bit, even when it offends.

This is Voltaire’s famous credo – “defending to the death your right to say it” and all that. It’s fundamental to a democracy, which relies on ordinary people making their own minds up. And it’s supposed to be an idea that animates a university, a place where every theory ought to be able to be debated freely.

Absolutely.

So Victoria’s English lecturer Dougal McNeill may be right to castigate Israel for the Gazan war, or to call the soldiers’ speeches “apologetics for military violence”, but he is entirely wrong to think either means the soldiers should be barred from talking.

The irony is he uses his free speech to try and prevent the free speech of others. Even worse he tried to prevent students from hearing that speech.

The point is not that activists are wrong. It is that they are so convinced they are right that they are prepared to shout down anyone who disagrees. This is a grim, insidious way of thinking.

They believe their right not to be offended outweighs other’s rights to make speech or receive it.

Vic academics against free speech

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

Stuff reports:

Israeli soldiers involved in an operation that left thousands of Palestinians dead will speak at Victoria University, to the horror of some staff and students.

But the group of Jewish students bringing the former soldiers out say attempts to stop them coming to the university are an affront to free speech.

Students are planning to picket the Tuesday evening event at the university while 11 academics have signed a letter opposing it, arguing Palestinians would not be able to do the same.

This is just the typical we want to shut down speech from those we disagree with.

Speakers representing the Palestinian view speak regularly on campuses around the world. No one ever ever suggests they not be allowed to speak. But whenever there is a speaker representing the Israeli view, they try to shut it down.

The event, at the Cotton Building, is organised by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS).

Spokesman Caelan MacBeth said it was shameful students were trying to prevent “an open exchange of views on a complex, longstanding Middle East conflict”.

“The basis upon which a university is built is that of debate, open discussion, equality of representation, and the right to free speech.”

The reserve soldiers were now students of medicine and business on holiday in New Zealand and planned to share their experiences of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Wouldn’t it be better to hear their first hand perspective, to ask questions of them, to challenge them if necessary. But instead they just want them silenced.

A letter signed by 11 academics expressed dismay the university would host the event which was “part of a nationwide campaign to justify Israeli crimes in last year’s war in Gaza”.

Operation Protective Edge in 2014 saw an Israel assault on the Gaza Strip in which more than 2000 people were killed. Of them, 1523 were civilians, the letter said.

“The United Nations stated that Israel’s use of heavy artillery against Gaza ‘may amount to a war crime’.”

Educational institutes were damaged and students were among the dead.

“It is astonishing, therefore, that an exercise in propaganda and apologetics for military violence should be hosted at a university setting under the guise of education and learning opportunities,” the letter states.

“This meeting gives a platform to [Israeli Defence Force] soldiers for them to celebrate the very conflict that led to such massive Palestinian loss of life.”

English lecturer Dougal McNeill – who signed the statement – said the event was nothing more than a propaganda project by Israel which, due largely to the rise of social media, was facing a “public relations disaster” after the deadly operation.

Palestinians would not be offered the same freedom, as most were unable to leave Palestine, he said.

While it seemed inevitable the event would go ahead he wished it would be cancelled.

The university has not invited them, but a club. The academics are saying they don’t want students to have the right to invite people they disapprove of. They are a shame to free speech and the hundreds of years of history of universities in promoting free speech.

Plunket comments cleared

June 30th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A talkback host’s comments describing award-winning New Zealand author Eleanor Catton as an “ungrateful hua” and a “traitor” were not in breach of broadcasting standards.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has declined to uphold two complaints about RadioLive host Sean Plunket’s comments about Catton speaking critically about the National government at a literary festival in India earlier this year.

Plunket called Catton an ‘ungrateful hua’ and a ‘traitor’, amongst other things.

The BSA received complaints that Plunket’s comments constituted “bullying” and a personal attack on Catton.

The authority’s decision said that “the severity of [Plunket’s] attack and the hostility and aggression of the language used? raised the question of whether this attack went too far”.

However, Plunket’s comments did not breach broadcasting standards, it ruled.

Catton was “powerfully exercising her right to freedom of expression and has had to suffer the responses including those from the broadcaster”, the BSA said.

“Conversely, the broadcaster has exercised its right to freedom of expression and it will have suffered consequences from those who objected to what Mr Plunket said and the way in which he said it.”

The decision from the authority considered that “?different views have been expressed and have been evaluated and those who have expressed or broadcast these views have been judged accordingly”.

“This is how we think things are meant to work in a liberal democracy.

“We do not think that our society would be better off if views such as those of the radio host were staunched.”

Another defeat for the opponents of free speech.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act

June 30th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

This afternoon Parliament will pass into law the Harmful Digital Communications Act. If I was an MP, I’d vote against the bill.

In saying that I recognise a significant amount of good will come from this bill. I also recognise that Amy Adams has made improvements to it, which have mollified some of the concerns people have had with the bill, which is why Labour and NZ First are now supporting it. In fact ACT is the only party against – David Seymour explains why here.

Here’s the good aspects to the new law:

  • The approved agency (will be Netsafe who are very good) will get legal standing, and be able to far more effectively mediate cases with Facebook, Google etc where real harm is happening – especially cyberbullying of teens
  • Specifics behaviours which are despicable such as encouraging someone to kill themselves, posting revenge porn etc will face criminal sanctions
  • Has an extensive safe harbour for intermediaries such as Kiwiblog and Trade Me, so that we’re not liable for content generated by others on our sites, so long as we pass complaints on promptly
  • Rather than me having to judge if a comment is harrassing, threatening etc, I can allow the Approved Agency to mediate, or the District Court to rule

The bad aspects include:

  • The 10 communication principles are too wide, and principle No 10 especially could lead to severe restrictions for online speech, with the principle being used to stifle legitimate criticism
  • The timelines for the safe harbour are very tight
  • A few dedicated trolls could make life hell for content hosts by constantly taking them to court, especially as there is no filing fee
  • Different legal standards now apply to offline and online speech

The Press editorial is opposed:

The purpose of the statute is high-minded enough.  It is designed to deter, prevent and mitigate harm to individuals by digital communications. But the thresholds set by the new statute are perilously low and potentially pose a  threat to freedom of speech. …

Both the agency and the District Court must  decide matters according to “communication principles” contained in the new statute.  Some of these are ludicrously wide.  One, for example, prohibits  digital communications that make a false allegation.  As those with experience of defamation law know, that can be an area of endless argument, and the new statute has none of the safeguards provided by two centuries of development of defamation law.  A similar risk arises from the prohibition on a communication that may be “grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual”. It does not take much imagination to see how that provision could be used by a deeply religious person to resurrect blasphemy laws that have largely (and properly in a secular society) fallen into disuse.   

A complainant will not be able to obtain any redress unless he or she can show that the offending digital communication has caused  harm. But harm has also been given an alarmingly expansive definition by the statute. It is defined as anything that causes a complainant “serious emotional distress”, a disconcertingly subjective notion. 

The statute requires any decisions to be consistent with rights and freedoms contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It is odd the new statute should state this explicitly because those provisions should apply anyway. Presumably it was in recognition of the fact that the new statute potentially threatens those rights and freedoms.

The BORA reference should mean that the court only orders material to be removed in extreme circumstances. But until we have several cases go through the system, we don’t know what sort of approach will be taken.

As I said, there are good aspects to this law. It will help a number of people considerably. But as with The Press I fear the communication principles are too wide, and it will result in people ironically being bullied by others using the law for exercising their free speech online.

 

The hatred of diverse views

June 3rd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

CBC reports:

A same-sex couple from St. John’s is upset after discovering the jewelry store that sold them their engagement rings has posted a sign that seems to oppose same-sex marriage — but one of the store’s owners says he’s allowed to post his religious beliefs.

Personally I think it is silly for a business to limit its business by stating their political views on who should be able to marry. But that’s their decision to make.

The couple went to the store the following day, and asked about the sign.

“They just said that that’s their beliefs, and they think they can put up whatever they want. I just said it was very disrespectful, it’s very unprofessional and I wanted a refund,” White said.

“I have no issues with them believing in what they believe in. I think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But I don’t think they should put their personal beliefs inside their business.”

But that’s their choice – it is their business.

Jardon said he’s an immigrant, and feels blessed to live in Canada.

“One of the reasons my family chose to come to Canada was the freedom of rights,” he said, noting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

“Nothing in that shop or in these posters is against the law… There’s nothing there that means to discriminate or to hate anybody else.”

Jardon said he won’t apologize for his beliefs.

“I feel really bad that [White] feels that we would in any way try to hurt or discriminate against her, but we will not retract from what we believe. I cannot say, ‘Well because you feel bad, I will stop believing what I believe,'” he said.

“When I walk on Church Street in Toronto, where I am right now, and I see [LGBT rainbow flags], and I see a lot of signs and a lot of things on public property, I don’t have a problem with them. I accept it. I chose to come to Canada… and we accept the whole package… I don’t discriminate against that, nor do I come and tell them to take them down. For the same reason, I ask to have the same respect in return, especially when it’s in my own business.”

Sounds reasonable.

Jardon said he’s getting a big backlash from social media.

“I had to shut down the Facebook page because of so many hate emails and phone calls and just, really nasty stuff,” he said.

Some people are threatened by diverse opinions.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”?