Free Speech Union update, 16 September

Our work across the country continues as we keep up the fight for free speech. Welcome to the latest update. 

Philip Arps comes last place in election for Te Aratai College Board of Trustees 

Philip Arps' decision to run for Board of Trustee at Te Aratai College has drawn a lot of interest over the past month, as he is widely considered to be a white supremacist. Associate Minister for Education, Jan Tinietti, even said that she was looking at whether a law change was necessary to stop individuals with 'ideologies of hate' from being able to run. But there's just one crucial question with that: who gets to decide what an 'ideology of hate' is? You? The next minister who takes your place? 

Philp Arps

At the Free Speech Union, our position on this issue is very clear. Hate the perspectives and speech of candidates as much as you want, it has to be the voters who decide who's unworthy of public office.

There's a word for this: democracy. 

Given Mr. Arps' questionable past and position on sensitive issues, we're not surprised the good parents of children at Te Aratai College chose not to elect him, but predictably just his candidacy has been pounced on by our would-be-censors, saying this shows the Government must do more to silence hateful individuals.

Hate speech laws are the top priority for those who want to control the expression of speech like this. But as American journalist Jonathan Rauch claims 'Hate speech is bad, I agree, but what's bad about it is the hate, not the speech, and just silencing the speech is like dealing with global warming by breaking all the thermometers.' 

Jonathan Rauch quote

Whether hate speech laws, legislation that blocks 'ideology of hate' from seeking public office or any number of other disturbing attempts to silence open debate, many leaders in New Zealand have lost faith in the public's good sense. 

Censorship is fundamentally anti-democratic. It ultimately silences the voices of the most vulnerable or powerless, that's why we need to fight it in every form. 

Is it just me, or are police introducing hate speech laws on the fly? 

In an example of incredible overreach, Police in Marlborough have tried to seize and criminalise a flag of the Black Power gang. The officer responsible, Sergeant Graham Single, claims 'People are finding it [the flag] upsetting, they are finding it offensive, and they are objecting to it being displayed. The fact they feel that nothing can be done to prevent the display of the flag plays on their wellbeing and mental health.'

We're not going to claim standing up for gang members' free speech is a popular move, but there's a principle at play here. Once their speech can be undone because people find it offensive and object to it, who's next? 

There is nothing in the patch that is inherently promoting crime or violence, this is simply an attempt at the suppression of an organisation’s right to speech and association, as protected under the Bill of Rights. 

As we claimed in our media statement on this issue, that the patch is upsetting to some is no excuse for classifying it as objectionable and thankfully the Chief Censor’s office agreed. What was so chilling about the submission made by the police to the censor’s office was the use of the same weak talking-points frequently used by pro-censorship activists in order to violate the rights of the gang chapter. New Zealanders should view this as a seriously distressing development.  

The ’N-word’ that features on the flag and patch is offensive to many. But representatives of the chapter have stated that their use of the term is about neutralising it and separating it of its historic power to do harm by making it their own. Surely a historically oppressed and victimsed people should reserve this right, just as a Member of Parliament attempted to reclaim the ‘C-word’ only a few years ago (here's looking at you Marama Davidson). The Police didn’t try to arrest the MP then. How dare anyone, let alone law-enforcement, seek to abuse the law now.  

This case really shows how subjective our relationship with words are - how words carry different meanings to different people - and how policing them will always violate someone’s equality. Ultimately, this is just another attempted use of the law to censor and suppress an organisation, with the weak, nebulous justification of ‘offense'. 

Media Complaint rules Stuff ran inaccurate and unbalanced article on Bethlehem College 

I don't need to tell you that the role of the ‘Fourth Estate’ and accurate journalism is crucial for democracy to function well. But as we can clearly see, ‘activism journalism’ is rampant in our media today.

That’s why we were glad to hear the Media Council
 had upheld a complaint against Stuff for inaccuracy and imbalance.
The Stuff reporter responsible for this article, Annemarie Quill, failed to seek comment from Bethlehem College before publishing the article in June following accusations of ‘violence, death threats and verbal attacks’ against LGBT students.

Stuff Journalist Annemarie QuillThis article was one of many that reported on attempts to silence Bethlehem College’s statement of values, where they noted that the school held a traditional view of marriage. Once Stuff was challenged about inaccuracies in the reporting, they said they would take the article down, but never did. 

Why do we at the Free Speech Union care about a single complaint to the Media Council against Stuff? When the media begins to operate as ‘guardians of acceptable narratives, rather than those who simply present the objective facts of important stories, they being to operate as the priesthood of modern orthodoxies. Public discussion is impoverished through this bias.

Ultimately, it's free speech that enables us to all contribute to important public discussions, but if we’re only being presented with one side, this isn’t possible. 

Without free speech, there is no free press. Submission on media merger Bill  

Last week, we submitted to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee on the Government's Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill, which will see Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and TVNZ merged into one media entity.

Freedom of the press and free speech are not the same thing. But they are inextricably entwined. Without the right to express ourselves freely, the press has no freedom to present differing accounts of what is happening in our nation. Therefore, free speech founds this crucial freedom and without a free press, democracy itself can quickly find itself on the rocks.  

Media Merger Submission

As Duncan Greive has pointed out, by operating as a not-for profit this entity is ‘likely to dominate NZ media’. The basic fact of the matter is the absence of a profit motive means the new organisation could far too easily undermine competitive voices by operating below cost. This will reduce the spectrum of views presented in our media.

Melissa Lee highlighted clearly when she spoke on this Bill in Parliament, there will also be implications for the diversity of perspectives available in this new media behemoth. One of the reasons for that is the organisation will not rely on advertising to the same extent as is currently required, meaning groups that pay to have their views exposed will no longer have that opportunity. 

Even more troublingly, there's the question of 'approved content' and this merger operating as a media behemoth, crushing diverse perspectives. RNZ Chief Executive, Paul Thompson, has made reference to these 'accepted truths', claiming that the merger is driven ‘in part by… the spread of disinformation.’

No organisation or society has ever been well-served by a sector claiming to have a monopoly on truth, be that the church, science, and certainly not the media. Without greater safeguards for free speech in the merger, we fear this is what will occur.  

Keen for some great content? Why not check some of this out? 

- Did you hear about VUWSA's (Victoria University of Wellington Student Association) decision to bar a mayoral candidate from participating in their mayoral candidate's debate, because of (insert cliche accusations)? Dane Giraud unpacks why handing over the moral hygiene to university students might not be the very best idea. 

- I was able to join Dr. Michael Johnstone and Dr. James Kierstead on the New Zealand Initiative Podcast to discuss the release of our University Ranking Report, and why free speech needs to be defended on university campuses most of all.  

- Recently released on the Free Speech Union podcast, I sat down with three council candidates to discuss democracy in action in local government. This is not one to miss, with some spicier moments than expected.

Each generation before us has been aware that free speech isn't free. Let's not take it for granted. If you stay in the fight with us, we'll keep standing for all of our freedom to speak openly, without fear.  

Thank you for your support. 


Jonathan Ayling

Free Speech Union

P.S. Voting papers for local council elections have been sent today, and Kiwis will begin voting next week. As promised, we'll be distributing a voting guide with responses from hundreds of candidates to show those who will stand for free speech. Keep an eye out for this when we send it early next week. 

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Authorised by J. Ayling, Free Speech Union, Level 4, 117 Lambton Quay, Wellington.

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  • Jonathan Ayling
    published this page in Blog 2023-11-17 15:21:23 +1300

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