FSU Local Government Review Submission

FSU film screening of Last Words: Some reflections by Dr. David Bromell

By way of introduction, I worked as a policy advisor in central and local government for nearly 20 years. So I come at this as a policy wonk who has learned a few things about how government works and how laws are made. I’ve taught in the School of Government at Victoria University, where I’m a Senior Associate of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies. And I’m an Adjunct Senior Fellow in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Canterbury. During 2020 and 2021, I did some research on the Christchurch Call and wrote a book on Regulating free speech in a digital age: Hate, harm and the limits of censorship (Springer, 2022). 

I want to highlight three points that caught my attention in the Free Speech Union’s documentary, Last Words.

First, passing laws does not solve complex social problems – and may make it worse.

When bad things happen, common reactions are: “The government should have prevented this”; and “There should be a law against it.” We saw both reactions after the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques in March 2019.

Let me be clear, as Jacob Mchangama was in the film, that governments should and must censor and criminalise incitement of violence, in accordance with international human rights law.  

NZ law already has provisions for this – in the Crimes Act, the Summary Offences Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The challenge, and the current debate, is about how society should respond to abuse and nastiness that stop short of incitement to violence – to communication that is harmful but legal, “lawful but awful”. 

That’s what the current debate is about. How might society and the law best respond to disagreement and conflict along a continuum that runs from criticism, satire and “hurtful” remarks through to verbal abuse and “stirring up” of hatred and hostility?

In a liberal democratic society where people want and value different things, I don’t think it should be a crime for you to hate me, or for me to hate you. The state cannot justifiably legislate affection, or demand that we like, agree with or approve of one another’s ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, practices or ways of life. 

But a liberal democratic society can justifiably require us to tolerate what we dislike and even hate in one another. And it can insist that we resolve our inevitable conflicts under the rule of law and without resorting to violence, using words instead of weapons.

In other words, I have a right to be protected from violence, but I don’t have a right to be protected from offence. Neither do I have a right to be liked.

In any case, passing laws doesn’t make hostility and hatred go away. In the film, Mike Grimshaw reminded us that when we’re dealing with “radical losers”, passing harsher laws can feed confirmation bias and drive resistance underground where it festers and grows into something bigger and worse.

Secondly, if you want the government to control speech, be careful what you wish for.

The state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Those who call for hate speech laws want to leverage that coercive power to silence people and views they don’t like, and to regulate the boundaries of permissible speech and thought.

There’s a long human history of this – heresy trials, crusades, jihad and other wars of religion, inquisitions, witch trials, cultural revolutions, fatwas and now “cancel culture”. The urge to censor and suppress never ends well and causes a great deal of human misery, particularly when it leverages the coercive powers of the state.

What we can learn from history, and especially the European Wars of Religion, is that our best chance is toleration – agreeing to disagree, and learning to disagree agreeably. That’s more about culture and civility than law, and it requires more speech rather than less speech—curiosity, respect, more talking and a lot more listening.

If you would prefer a pile on, and for the state to punish people who think, write and speak wrong thoughts, history tells us to be careful what we wish for. In his book, Free speech: A global history from Socrates to social media (Basic Books, 2022), Jacob Mchangama, who we saw and heard in the film, describes what he calls the Weimar Fallacy. 

During the 1920s, Germany’s Weimar Republic introduced censorship laws to suppress right-wing radical extremism from the likes of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists. The laws were expanded in the 1930s, so by the time Hitler came to power, it was easy for the Nazis to abolish free speech completely. Laws designed against the Nazis were used by the Nazis against everyone else.

The Weimar Fallacy cautions that the power of the state and of the law may be used by “us” against “them” today, but by “them” against “us” tomorrow. So if you want the state to legislate and enforce censorship and criminalisation, be careful what you wish for, particularly if you are a member of a minority social group.

Thirdly, let’s not get sucked into moral panic about the internet and social media.

The 2019 attack on Christchurch mosques was the first time a terrorist act had been live-streamed on social media. Brenton Tarrant designed and planned it to “go viral”. And there have been copy-cat incidents since then, including in Halle, Germany, in October 2019 and in Glendale, Arizona, in May 2020. 

The internet and social media platforms are used and abused for morally reprehensible purposes. But let’s not forget that the internet and social media also serve countless good purposes, including information sharing; social connecting; access to government, commercial and community services; online delivery of education and healthcare; research, and much more. Like all human enterprise, the internet and social media platforms are morally ambiguous – they can be used for both good and bad purposes.

(Imagine if the COVID-19 pandemic had happened in the era before the internet and the government had imposed a level 4-type lockdown. How much greater the damage to society and the economy might have been without digital connectivity.)

And let’s not forget that contemporary moral panic over the internet, social media, misinformation and disinformation is eerily reminiscent of moral panic over earlier technologies, like the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, and the distribution of pamphlets and books during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

Besides, even more than the printed word, the internet is a “world-wide web”. Trying to regulate, control and censor it is a global game of whack-a-mole. Suppress harmful communication here and it pops up again over there.

We cannot eliminate harmful communication from the internet. That isn’t an excuse to do nothing, but there’s no simple solution. We can’t just pass a few laws and hope the problem will go away. Because it won’t, and then the temptation for governments is to keep passing ever more restrictive laws.

My own view is that cleaning up the internet requires a combination of internationally aligned government regulation and co-regulation with internet service providers; industry self-regulation; pressure from users, shareholders and advertisers; education from primary school-age up up in civics, human rights, critical thinking, digital literacy and non-violent conflict resolution; adequately funded and politically independent public broadcasting; and citizen counter-speech – and that’s a whole topic in itself!

Merely passing censorship laws never has and never will solve complex social problems. We’ve all got a role to play in recovering the art of civility. It starts with us, here and now; not with politicians in Wellington enacting badly designed laws.

'Last Words' national screening tour

Looking for more information on our Last Words documentary, and the screenings which are taking place around the country? Follow this link here! https://www.fsu.nz/lastwordstour

Partnership is the only choice

Waitangi Day marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Regrettably, this is not always a day of coming together. 

Controversy will likely churn forever around which is the correct interpretation of the Treaty, but that is for another thought-piece, and one not written by yours truly. 

I do want to talk about partnership, however, and why supporting free speech requires us to partner even with those we vehemently disagree with, in order to preserve this right, but also demands that we radically listen to each other, if we want a way out of today’s polarised political landscape.   

My start in TV production was with a company that had multiple contracts with the newly minted Māori Television. 

I, a non-Māori, was hired to oversee a rugby league show (likely because I hail from legendary rugby league town, Otahuhu), and my position quickly extended into writing, directing, and producing on a range of different shows. 

As an Otahuhu boy I was no stranger to multiculturalism. While I knew very little of the rural Māori experience it seemed like every second home in Otahuhu was either Māori or of a mixed whanau. 

But I certainly knew nothing about Māori politics, even into my early twenties. 

Looking back, if I saw Maori activists on TV, my general thoughts would have been “We live in an awesome place? What’s the beef? Chill out, man?” 

So, while not overtly anti their activism, I just could not see the problem. I vaguely knew of historic injustice, but my own family, on both sides, had been victims of terrible injustices back in Europe. 

That was then, this is now. 

But working at this production company changed that, and I can pinpoint my awakening down to the day. A pair of DV tapes were tossed onto my desk and I was told to find a catchy grab of then Māori party co-leader Tariana Turia to use at the start of a new show. Something zappy. Provocative, even. But no longer than 10 or 20 seconds please! 

And so, for two whole hours I sat and watched a head and shoulders interview of Tariana Turia. 

A few things happened over those two hours. First, I started to really like her. And then, with my heart open, so to speak, I started to truly hear her, and while I cannot pretend I agreed with everything she said, I started to understand why she did.

This long form interview gave me context, and with my ear more attuned, I thereafter continued to absorb multiple Māori positions and developed a far more sympathetic and engaged view. 

I am saddened by those online who frame the government’s minimal use of te reo Maori as an existential threat to their own identities - a “takeover” as some put it. We can debate how and why proficiency in spoken Maori language dramatically diminished, but no answer will diminish the tragedy of a dying language. 

Equally maddening are those who dismiss any critics of contemporary Left identarianism as sexist, racist or transphobic. To quote the late, great Christopher Hitchens, from his 2004 Atlantic essay on Edmund Burke (Reactionary Prophet) … 

“It is a frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.”

Ultimately, the culture wars will prove futile because we live in a multicultural democracy. 

We only really have the choice of partnership – and by that, I mean a recognition that every one of us is a dissenting voice at some level, and yet we must all believe compromise to be possible, even in the face of seemingly impossible social questions.  

This takes radical listening, a privilege free speech gives us, that demands we silence the censor in all of our hearts – that pernicious voice within us that is addicted to conflict, and that will fight tooth and nail to prevent our minds from being changed. 

Happy Waitangi Day. 

Submission on Hate Speech Bill

Free speech: the antithesis of violence

The spectre of terrorism is present throughout the West (and far beyond), but due to our recent past in New Zealand, this threat plays on our mind in unique ways. 

On March 15, 2019, 51 Muslim worshippers were killed by a lone-Australian terrorist, inspired in part by the actions of Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik. More explicitly though, as Foreign Policy notes, it was French ideas (including those from Renaud Camus) which inspired Brenton Tarrant to take this extreme action.

This was not the only French connection to these tragic events on the other side of the globe. Exactly two months after the Christchurch Attack, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron, met in Paris to found the Christchurch Call to Action. This initiative has since gathered together a community of over 120 governments, online service providers, and civil society organisations, working to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. 

While it is entirely consistent with the role of the state to protect their citizens from attacks both foreign and domestic, we often pay for safety in the currency of freedom. It is crucial that civil society operates as a watchdog for government overreach that undermines crucial civil liberties, especially the freedom of speech, which founds so many other basic freedoms. 

As the Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union New Zealand, an organisation with sister-groups across the anglosphere, I am deeply invested in the idea that the right to free expression and speech makes our communities safer, not more dangerous. Yet, in line with that, I must spend a lot of my time explaining that direct incitement to violence, and violent extremist material online which promotes or directly calls for terrorism, is not protected by freedom of expression and falls ‘beyond the pale.’

This is because violence is the antithesis of speech.

However, noting that direct incitement to violence is not protected by freedom of expression admittedly introduces an element of subjectivity in distinguishing between direct incitement and more general expression of opinion. 

This distinction, and the difficulty in assessing it, is illustrated in a recent document released by the security agency responsible for counter-terrorism in New Zealand. In October 2022, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) released ‘Know the Signs: a guide to identify signs of violent extremism.’ This guide outlined key features that could indicate an individual's intent to commit a violent attack, such as withdrawing from community, possessing instructions for how to make weapons, discussing willingness to die for their beliefs, and others.  

Many were concerned about this guide, claiming it simply relegated all those with opinions that differed with the mainstream, or ‘developing a hostile “us vs them” world view’, into extremists and possible terrorists. There is particular sensitivity to this in New Zealand, as an especially censorious government continues to divide the nation and denigrate those with opinions that differ from theirs. Initiatives such as the Christchurch Call, according to some, threaten to further enable state censorship, and punish any who express dissenting or provocative ideas- all in the name of counter-extremism and safety. Given that there is currently legislation before Parliament that would allow the state to charge someone as a terrorist if they possess ‘objectionable material’, even though it has nothing to do with terrorism or the promotion of terrorism at all, illustrates why some are concerned. 

A key distinction between the NZSIS guide, and other material that undermines the right for others to freely express themselves, is the fact that it explicitly relates only to the threat of violence. The guide 'talks specifically about violent extremism rather than non-violent forms of extremism.’ This is an important caveat. 

But what about those that claim ‘words are violence’? Seemingly daily, we see academics dismissed from university posts for ‘wrong-think’, and activists and government bureaucrats patholgising the role of speech in dividing our societies. Should words be treated as violence if they are ‘harmful’. In reality, words are the opposite of violence, and we must never stop asserting that. 

That is what we claimed following another terrorist attack in New Zealand in 2021 by an Islamic extremist. We wrote: 

‘Violence in the name of ideology is the polar opposite of free speech. It is the ultimate attempt to silence those who do not share your worldview. Differences of political and religious opinion must be navigated with reason and dialogue. Never through violence. Never through fear.

Those who refuse to resolve ideological differences with words are the ones who turn to violence. Those who refuse to respectfully engage in civil dialogue with those they disagree with are the ones who become hateful extremists in the first place.

Freedom of speech — the fundamental human right to peacefully express one’s opinion — is an inherently non-violent principle. This is why we seek to protect it.’ 

As Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff note, this claim will make our societies ‘more anxious and more willing to justify physical harm.’ Lukianoff went on to claim, ‘Redefining the expression of opinion as violence is a formula for a chain reaction of endless violence, repression, and regression.’

It was Sigmund Freud who claimed ‘The first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilisation.’ A culture of free speech that resolutely asserts the right for all to openly express their beliefs is crucial if our countries are to be safe from those who would use violence and terrorism to advance their cause rather than reason, dialogue, and debate. While censorship may appear to be a simple solution to remove the ideas we most despise, in reality, it is a short-term fix with a high price. It forces potentially dangerous viewpoints underground where they fester and remain unchallenged. 

Counter-intuitively, free speech is the greatest preventative to extreme ideologies that advocate violence because it places these perspectives in the open where they can be challenged and,  through debate and reason, revealed to be faulty. Our governments and security services must keep this in mind. 

Culture of Free Speech & Journalist Activism

Those of us on the council at the Free Speech Union spend a lot of time disagreeing. We don’t all vote for the same parties nor believe in the same gods (or any at all). We don’t agree with everyone whose speech we have defended and we robustly debate the merits of the cases we get involved with.

So it was unsurprising that this week we found ourselves disagreeing on what our role is in regards to the media in New Zealand. Some of my fellow council members frame our role more tightly around the law. That is, our focus should be on that which the state controls, for example hate speech laws and the criminalisation of expression.

My perspective is that our role must take a wider scope to be effective in promoting a tolerant and open New Zealand in which speech is free. The elite institutions which exist in the political eco-system, but aren’t directly run by the state, should receive the same scrutiny for how they create the conditions of suppression. This includes academia and the media.

Last week Stuff ran a story about a school counsellor from Bethleham College who they claimed was “accused of transphobia”. The article no longer appears to be online. The central focus of the article were comments the counsellor had posted on her personal Facebook account, raising concerns about children being given puberty blockers.

Now, I considered the counsellor’s comments to be reasonable, compassionate, and measured, but even if I hadn’t the conduct of Stuff and the journalist who wrote the piece warrants some reflection. When is it appropriate for media to ‘name and shame’ private citizens for what they write on their personal Facebook pages?

In the first instance, the privacy of the individual must be weighed against the question of whether such an article is in the public’s interest. Given that the counsellor, in this case, is currently on maternity leave it seems to me that the contents of her social media accounts are even less newsworthy than they would have already been otherwise.

The completely uneven power and influence dynamic between Stuff and the young woman named in the article present an example of how private organisations and companies attempt to control public narratives and suppress speech they don’t like.

In my view, the article wasn’t written to inform, it was written to punish. The journalist was operating as an activist with a particular world view and her message was clear ‘if you express this view, you could be named and shamed with your face published in Stuff’. This is what we call the chilling effect, where explicit suppression laws are not required because those with significant social power or influence make examples of dissenters, frightening everyone else into silence.

But am I impinging on the free speech of Stuff and this particular journalist by calling out what I consider to be unethical journalism? No. 

Ani O'Brien

We can all criticise whatever speech we like and to say we think something is bad or even immoral is not to say ‘chuck them in prison’. If the journalist had commented in her own personal capacity on the school counsellor’s post they would have been engaged in a pretty even exchange of ideas.

By wielding the power of one of the largest media conglomerates in the country, personal criticism became weaponised in a way that victimised a private citizen and warned others who share her view to stay quiet. Additionally, the state funding that Stuff has received creates an extra dynamic where they can be seen as an extension of the state.

For New Zealanders to be truly free to speak and contest ideas, a lot more needs to happen than just preventing speech suppression laws. The most powerful among us must know that we do not tolerate bullying tactics like those used in the article about the school counsellor. We must promote a culture of free speech and tolerance that flourishes in our communities, corporations, schools, and homes.  

The Free Speech Union, in my view, should be just as willing to call out the corporate bullies as we do state overreach. We should be driving social change towards a culture of tolerance of difference. We continue to debate this as a union and whatever position we come to will be more robust and considered because we were willing to hear different perspectives.

'Plain Language Bill’- Another Solution Looking for a Problem

'Plain Language Bill- Another Solution Looking for a Problem

Parliament: an ironic place where contradictions abound. At first glance stately and formal, but under the surface we know skulduggery abounds. A place of quiet importance and hushed propriety, yet if youve ever seen Question Time (or a Caucus meeting), it gives a disrupted kindergarten a run for its money. 

Its fitting then that Rachel Boyacks Plain Language Bill keeps up this ironic trend- a piece of Government writing filled with lots of big words about why they need to employ people to make sure their writing has small words. And yes, youd think that government would already be writing in a way so that the people they represent can understand. But, well, theres that irony again. As the Shadow Attorney-General, Chris Penk, claimed as simply as possible this Bill is not good. In fact, it is bad.’ 

Frankly, its difficult to argue against the claim that official documents should be accessible to the general public. In fact, its such a good idea there are already annual Plain Language Awardscelebrating the public service department which uses the clearest language. But thats not really whats up for debate in Boyacks Bill. Rather, its a Government funded structure to employ Plain Language Officers(could someone write a use-more-original-namesBill?) to peer over the shoulder of each public servant, making sure that their language is not convoluted (that means tricky”, if it wasnt plain.) This is the more sinister element of this legislation, and with irony again rearing its ugly head again, Boyack, the sponsor of the Bill, is entirely ignorant to it. 

Does this seem a bit elaborate (that means convoluted”)? Let me put it plainly: given the way this Government has tried to control information, speech, and expression, do we really want a language officersigning off on every piece of public comms? What happens when the Government does what I just did there without anyone noticing? Take away the plainaspect, and just make it a language officer’… is this sounding a little more Ministry of Truth-esque? Public servants need to be able to give free and frank advice to their political overlords and, more importantly, to speak openly with the public; erasing certain words from their vocabulary is a step in the wrong direction. 

Is that clear? To control language is to control the ideas we can communicate.

Opposition to this Bill is split between its absurdly unnecessary nature and the potential for it to be abused and become yet another string in the censorship bow of a Government intent on controlling speech. Just because it is in practice good to write plainly doesnt mean we need legislation creating a role to enforce this. And just because the intention of the plain language officerisnt inherently censorious, that doesnt mean it wont end up silencing provocative speech. Is Boyacks next Members Bill going to address these issues that shes creating with this one? 

Despite what some might say, the public service is not simply a conglomeration of higher beings sitting in great ivory towers in Wellington micromanaging the country through sophisticated decrees. (To put it plainly now) theyre normal people, like us, and can be expected to speak on the same level as the rest of the nation in a way we can all perfectly understand, on their own. Like so many other attempts at restricting and controlling speech, this Bill has proven to be another hopeless solution in desperate search of a problem.

To echo a suggestion from Duncan Garner- perhaps it would be a much better use of Government resources to appoint common-sense officers, perhaps even honesty officers or transparency officials!

(If you skimmed to the bottom of the article for the plain explanation in simple words, you cant put it better than Chris Penk: this Bill is not good. In fact, it is bad.)

The Road To Hell Is Paved With (Censorious) Good Intentions

Our Prime Minister has quickly become a polarizing figure on the international stage. Jacinda Ardern is either fawned over and adored or vilified and framed as the smiling face of authoritarianism. Considering that if New Zealand was a U.S. state it would only be the 25th most populated, it is extraordinary that Ardern has such star power.

Her recent speech to an almost empty United Nations Assembly in New York has typically inspired the Ardern lovers and haters to take to the internet to express their heartfelt convictions. Her assertions that mis- and dis-information are ‘weapons of war’ has unsurprisingly gone down like a cup of cold sick with freedom loving Americans, while Western proponents of safetyism have applauded her. 

Ani O'Brien

As always, the truth of the matter lies somewhere between the two camps. Jacinda Ardern is not an evil genius hellbent
on the destruction of Western democracy, however that doesn’t mean that what she is doing is right or justified. The road to hell, after all, is paved with (in this case, censorious) good intentions.

What Ardern and her advisors on these matters are guilty of is incredible arrogance and historical ignorance. They presume that the Government is best placed to decide what is true and what is right and that the populace needs to be shepherded towards righteousness because they are easily corrupted. The inverse is true. 

Governments are often wrong. It isn’t necessary to be a professor of history to understand that Government mistakes have had terrible consequences historically. The existence of our own Waitangi Tribunal and the continuing settlements between Crown and iwi is evidence of that. Ardern herself delivered a state apology to Pacific Island communities for the Dawn Raids – a terrible policy that existed under both Labour and National Governments. 

It is governments who need to be monitored by the people lest they become self-interested and infatuated with their own importance. What is true and right should not be decided at a Cabinet Meeting or by public servants. The Enlightenment taught us that reason is argued for and debated, springing from the process of collective discernment. It is through the percolation of ideas and knowledge in society that truth is established. We appeal to authorities and experts at times, but ultimately the collective wisdom of the sum of our experiences is what gives legitimacy to beliefs and thought.

Whether Ardern intends it or not, her rhetoric on free speech and mis-/dis-information is advocacy for the might of the state. She is calling for Government to expand its powers to empower thought and speech control. While I doubt that it is her intention to imbue herself with the power of a dictator, these ideas are authoritarian. The Ardern Government would do well to remember that the power of persuasion through compelling argument and community engagement is much more likely to ensure long term support for an idea than wielding the hammer of the state and the justice system.

Just like governments, people have bad ideas all the time. There are people around today who still think the world is flat! Thinking something and even espousing something that is incorrect is not evil and should not be treated as a threat so dangerous that it must be forcefully stamped out. Free speech is fundamental to the monitoring of bad ideas that come from our governments. Without it, women wouldn’t have the vote, homosexuality would still be illegal, and any number of racist laws would never have been overturned.

Governments change, but the powers we allow them to grab are passed to the next. One person’s misinformation is another person’s deeply held belief and, no offence, but I don’t trust Jacinda Ardern or Christopher Luxon to determine which is correct.

Understanding what really drives censorship

Given the fight we’re in, it’s important that we really understand what actually drives censorship.

On a recent episode of the Free Speech Union podcast, I got to talk with David Gregory, the co-owner of Severin Films, an L.A. based restoration and distribution company that rereleases classic horror, fantasy, and exploitation titles.

OK, full disclosure: I’m a massive horror fan and have been since I was a kid. So, on that level, it was a thrill to engage with a kindred spirit (another former horror kid). But be assured, I wasn’t abusing my office at the Free Speech Union. The topic we discussed was right in our wheelhouse. Censorship. Or, more specifically, British Film Censorship in the 1980’s.

But that was bloody decades ago, I bet you’re thinking. And in another country. We’ve got real free speech concerns now, right in front of us, like cancel culture in media, hate speech laws, and deplatforming at universities.

I admit, I wasn’t expecting much more than a fascinating history lesson on a topic that interests me. But David and my talk was seriously enlightening as to what type of people censors are, their modus operandi, and what, ultimately, they are trying to achieve.  

Trust me. It’s a great episode, so I don’t want to give too much away, but in a nutshell the explosion of home video in the early 80’s led to a type of moral panic in the UK. The difference between this medium and those that came before was you could press pause on the dirty or violent bits, rewind, and watch them again. And again.

The Chief Censor at the time was a man named James Ferman. Ferman’s 24-year tenure extended through the birth of home video. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was created to ensure commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK carried a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. This led to many outright bans, including of films that had previously been available (though not on the new medium of home video) such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 1971 Dustin Hoffman film Straw Dogs.

Commenting on the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Ferman explicitly stated that he was specifically worried about the film’s affect on the “car worker from Birmingham” and would also speak of the danger of “people in their bedsits”, utilising their revolutionary new pause and rewind buttons, whipping themselves into a frenzy with a flood of uncensored exploitation films.

Ferman’s unashamed classism - that the uneducated and unskilled worker was more susceptible to influence from controversial material – was also confirmed in the fact that high brow artistic films were treated more leniently by his office. They were for the educated, of course! The wealth class are incorruptible!

There was no science to any of this. For example, Ferman had a thing for nunchucks and demanded cuts of a Teenage Mutant Turtles” film accordingly. Blood on breasts was another big no-no, despite no study affirming that viewers became instantly inflamed by exposure to such imagery. Ferman, it seems, was totally going off vibesas most censors do - and was potentially revealing his own idée fixe in the process.

So, how is this relevant to us?

Because these same haughty impulses are driving our own government’s current censorship push. The classist idea that the unwashed are more susceptible to misinformation is indistinguishable from Ferman’s pitifully low expectations of the British working class of the 80’s.

The UK retained a strong class system through the 70’s and 80’s which is why censorship there was so prevalent: It is a tool for denying the working class. New means of communication, from the translation of the Bible through to the printing press, and the internet, have always troubled society’s most powerful. We are living through such an age, where a power-class are once again fearful of unfettered speech and information threatening their position.

You will often hear our government speak of wanting societal cohesion when they try to justify their censorship agenda. But order would be a better word to use, and by order I mean the top remaining on top, and those on the bottom rung equally staying put. We may be looking at a restructuring of society through censorship to ensure adequate measures for suppression exist for when the real financial pain hits. Surely, it’s no coincidence that censorship has returned to the West at a moment when inequality is so pronounced.

Who would have thought it would be a Labour government that saw as a central project the firm establishment of a new caste system? But this is what censorship seeks to entrench. I don’t need to tell you that this is not the Kiwi way.