We recently contacted our supporters about the major reforms the Government has proposed to the censorship regime, bringing social media content, podcasts and even some personal blogs all under a Super Regulator's oversight. They asked for tools to respond to this overreach. Today we are releasing these tools.
We need your help in pushing back against this major threat to free speech online. We've:
- launched a website that will enable you to write unique submissions in less than 5 minutes; https://www.freespeechsubmission.com
- and a petition that calls on each political party to refuse to adopt the proposals. https://www.fsu.nz/say_no_to_online_regulator
This is just the start of our campaign to defeat these proposals by the end of next month. We need you to stand with us to achieve this.
In our submission tool, we outline a number of reasons we are opposed to these proposals, not least of all the lack of democratic accountability for what is considered 'harmful' or 'safe'. Like 'hate' (when we were opposing hate speech laws) these terms are incredibly subjective.
As the Chief Executive of Radio New Zealand claimed when commenting on these proposals: 'The fundamental issue with the definition of harm is that it is inherently a subjective assessment... If a regime based on subjective tests is used then it will be difficult to establish consistency.'
Proposed reform to online censorship would see a Super-Regulator established which would control what you're allowed to say online; on your social media, in podcasts, or on blogs. This Regulator would make the rules, but without input from the public, and without Parliamentary oversight.
There is no democratic accountability in this process, where Kiwi citizens get to have their voices heard, and if they’re not listened to, they can vote the politicians out. This approach separates significant responsibility away from those who, first of all, are supposed to bear these responsibilities, but second, are accountable to voters.
That’s because at the heart of censorship is a great fear of the common Kiwi. We may romanticise them in a condescending way as inclusive, innovative, friendly, and reliable (all the things Kiwis are lauded for overseas), but don’t you dare actually trust them with the ability to talk amongst themselves freely; or at least not without a government regulator to make sure it’s 'ka pai'.
Kiwis don't need an unaccountable body telling them what ideas are 'harmful' or what content makes them 'unsafe'. We already have strong laws against extreme material. These changes will be weaponised to silence your beliefs and expression.
The proposed structure of a regulator, with a code drafted away from Parliament and political accountability, is a censor's greatest dream and will ultimately be weaponised to suppress unpopular or disliked perspectives and opinions.
Call this cynical, or call it a clear reading of history. Both are probably true.
These codes will apply to all platforms, whether or not they sign up – gone are voluntary opinions. And remember, the speech and content that will be regulated is all legal. New Zealand already has significant regulation in place.
As just one example, the Harmful Digital Communications Act already places fairly strict limitations on some content or forms of speech. The content the new regulator is looking to oversee is not child exploitation, terrorist activity or material that encourages self-harm. That is all indisputably already illegal in New Zealand.
This is about “harmful” ideas that make individuals “feel unsafe”. This is about silencing certain perspectives, views or beliefs.
Government's should also always have a view to what the unintended consequences of their actions will be, not just what they plan will happen if everything goes perfectly.
While the intention to address “safety” and online “harm” is arguably laudable, the cure is worse than the disease. This is an inelegant solution to the “lawful but awful” category of speech, which is best addressed through counter-speech. Frameworks of this kind do nothing to increase mature discourse or community interconnectedness. On the contrary, they breed suspicion and division.
Undoubtedly, content online can cause hate and harm. Free speech is the solution to this, as we use our voices to speak up for tolerance, inclusion, and diversity. Silencing Kiwis online does not promote social cohesion or build trust. Kiwis will see this work as nothing more than online hate speech laws, and will resist this overreach also. You can stand up and speak out now by submitting through our online submission tool (www.freespeechsubmission.com)
With less than 4 months till the election, we have the opportunity to ensure we have a win for free speech by showing political parties that support for these proposals will hurt them at the polls. By signing our petition now, together we can harness the voices of tens of thousands of New Zealanders from across the political spectrum, standing up for free speech online.
It costs tens of thousands of dollars to run an effective campaign that pushes back against this kind of Government overreach. We can only do this because of the support we have from 80,000 Kiwis around the country. If everyone gave just $1, that would more than cover our costs, but unfortunately they won't. Would you make a contribution now to help ensure we're able to keep the lights on while we stand up and fight for free speech another time? (www.fsu.nz/donate)
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