Pages tagged "Opinion"

  • Dane Giraud: Prof. Paul Spoonley Doesn't Believe in the Multicultural Society

    Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, a long-time observer of the far-Right and supporter of new hate speech legislation, and Elliot Ikilei, deputy leader of the New Conservatives met to debate hate speech legislation on June 29th at Victoria University. Prof Spoonley no doubt feels deeply that new legislation will better protect minority groups and his concern and energy directed this goal is commendable, but having listened to him a number of times now, his arguments tend to lack depth and explanation and rely on broad assumptions, dare I say even characterisations, of minority groups.

    The organisers of the event were the Shalom Students Association and Prof Spoonley focused on the spike in antisemitism around the world especially since 2015/ 16, and an increased need to protect our Jewish community*. Sadly, he never articulated exactly how hate speech legislation would prevent future atrocities. He’s in good company, the Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Paul S. Hunt hasn’t managed an explanation either, failing spectacularly in a 2019 RNZ interview with Kim Hill. We were left to assume that Prof Spoonley believes potentially dangerous racists will simply put down their pens at the introduction of new laws, shrug their shoulders and quietly find something better to do with their time. As speech restrictions are invariably a violation of democracy and equality, we really need to understand exactly how they will be effective.  

    Another striking thing about Prof Spoonley is, for all his professed knowledge of the far-Right, and concern about antisemitism, he doesn’t seem to understand that this ancient hatred is also a conspiracy theory making it a particularly complex form of racism. Advertising that it is no longer legal to express your displeasure at Jewish influence plays directly into ‘Jewish control’ narratives, potentially making the far-Right mission seemingly more urgent to the most deranged. In the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto, the killer explicitly states that his murderous act will hopefully beget more chaos due to the illiberal policies the government would likely implement. Add the martyr complex embedded in these movements and one has every reason to fear new laws could serve as a provocation. Why is Prof. Spoonley confident this wouldn’t be the case?

    Prof Spoonley’s closing address placed new hate speech legislation in the context of our changing demographics and this, to me, was the most disappointing aspect of his showing the other night. Does Prof. Spoonley really believe that multicultural nations demand illiberal speech laws in order to work? And if we are facing acute divisions, as he suggests, wouldn’t it be counter intuitive to hand advantage to select factions? And what does it say about attitudes towards minority groups among sections of academia when Prof. Spoonley suggests hateful speech silences members of minority groups from contributing to the wider debate? Plenty of people, from all walks of life, shy away from engaging online due to the intensity of the discourse. I’m a member of a minority group who is more than happy to jump in and give as good as I get, and I have plenty of Muslim and other friends who are just as confrontational. The narrative of the wall flower minority member is already a rather well-established, convenient trope among academics of Spoonley’s ilk that denies the strength and diversity within these groups.  

    Elliot Ekilei, in starting off his night, wanted to make clear that he was not an academic and that his own positions would be informed by the streets and his years of activism in South Auckland. As pleasant as Elliot always is, it started to feel like a thinly veiled insult the longer he wrung this towel. Yet for all of Prof. Spoonley’s experience and knowledge I was left feeling there is still significant distance between himself and some of our minority groups. This gap in understanding won’t serve minorities very well. To his credit, Prof. Spoonley admitted we need more debate on the topic, and I would personally love to take him up on this, potentially on the Free Speech Coalition podcast. Professor Spoonley, the invitation is open.

    * The NZ Jewish Council oppose new hate speech legislation which is something it would be good to hear Prof Spoonley address at some point.


  • Dane Giraud: I'm calling you out, Raybon!

    Yesterday, a NZ comedian (I don’t like to name names. I prefer monikers inspired by people’s ethnic types and body fat indexes… Ah, shit. OK, I’ll name him…) Raybon Kan — did I mention he was a comedian — wrote an anti-Free speech piece for He kicked-off, as every anti-speech screed-writer does, by clearing his throat with an affirmation of his personal commitment to Free Speech (he is a comedian after all) before using his 600 words to inform us he has nothing but scorn for the concept.

    And those prepared to defend it.

    People like me — Dane Giraud: the Silverback Jew! 🦍✡️


    Kan’s focus in his… well… schmatta (I call it that because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with writing so vulgar) rather tellingly was the “Free Speech Coalition”-of which I am a member-whom he presents as being in the service of White Nationalists, for choosing to bring a case against Auckland City Council for the cancellation of Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.

    Boy, did I screw-up?! A Jew, whose partner is a Muslim, and I end working for Nazis?!?

    I said tellingly because people are rarely able to defend speech restrictions: it’s an inherently corrupt position. The tactic is always to cast aspersions on anyone seeking to affirm this pivotal liberal value; a value that played a central role in the fight for all minority rights, the side-lining of the church as a pervasive cultural force, and in many of our advances in science and the arts.

    “In my view, the Free Speech Coalition would have contributed more to society, this entire year, if it had just got in a room, cranked up Pornhub, and gone for it ambidextrously till exhaustion”.

    What is either lost, or is wilfully being ignored by Kan, is that the current case is not in the service of the specific set of speakers at all; no case mounted for free speech ever is — it’s a case in defense of any and all potential speakers who may want to use council facilities — facilities we’re told are politically neutral. The authoritarian tends to believe they will always be in power, which may explain why Raybon isn’t fazed by how a decision to withdraw a platform could set a seriously worrying precedent; a precedent that could affect climate change activists, anti-war protesters, feminists, or, indeed, anyone who could be perceived problematic to those holding the keys to a venue. Raybon himself could one day fall foul of power and find his own performances banned. It’s feasible we may one day have a mayor with taste! A citizen’s relationship with power and the nature of power itself is constantly changing.

    A source of resentment for Raybon, which I’ve heard expressed plenty of times now, is how efficient the Coalition was in organizing and raising funds. I guess when you’re taking in $42 a night, in gold coins, at your shows, the amount of money we raised would get your hackles up. But don’t look at us! If anything, this is more about the New Zealand public’s general support of this central liberal principle. Most people support free speech, with relatively few wanting state overlords able to dictate what can and can’t be said. If Raybon is upset about our efficiency this is something he might want to take up with the New Zealand public.

    “It’s never your job to give racists useful information. Your job is to make the life of racists as difficult as possible. Make stuff up. (Exercise your freedom of speech.) Tell them NZ doesn’t do free speech. Tell them we only do it in leap years, during certain tidal patterns, and only if you wear the exotic “fern frond of free speech” — a rare fern only found over that steep cliff, over there, which you must approach backwards, on rollerblades, while wearing the “blindfold of justice”. Whatever you do, don’t volunteer, innovate, network, campaign, or crowdfund. Duh.

    So basically, don’t defend free speech — even go as far as to mislead and obscure people’s rights around free expression. But only for some, of course: the ones Raybon disagrees with.

    Again, dude, any speaker being defended is all speakers being defended.

    Why can’t Kan, and so many others, grasp this?

    If you find someone’s views repugnant, don’t help them plug in speakers and turn up the volume.

    When the Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern story broke, few New Zealander’s knew who they were. Thanks to Goff and subsequent media coverage, most media-consumers in New Zealand would’ve been exposed to at least their basic ideas. Censorship is valued PR. Being banned and the subsequent notoriety gained is often viewed as a coup by entertainers and speakers. Alice Cooper spent two years trying to get arrested. When he finally was, his stardom was assured. This is 101 shit. Goff, and you, Raybon, basically made breakfast in bed for the Canadian duo.

    Who’s working for who, again?

    The Silverback Jew is not the one in the service of Nazis. I understand that, as the member of a minority group, what rights I have were won, and can only be sustained, by a liberal system. This means defending the rights to free expression for all sorts of assholes because every asshole I defend assures this asshole has a better chance to say his piece.

    I called Raybon out and challenged him to a debate on this, on our official podcast. Something tells me he isn’t going to play. My prediction? He’d fold like a deckchair mic to mic with Dane Giraud, because, as I said earlier, once you can’t play the man and you got to pick up that ball with this topic, the anti-speech crowd crumble.

    But the offer still stands, Raybon. You were happy to spray me and others in print. Speaking only for myself now, I can forgive that. But be a man and offer me a real right of reply. I said I’d buy lunch. I even offered to write you some jokes! Alright… your own sitcom!

    Will you accept the wero?

  • Dr David Cumin's Analysis of the Regional Facilities Auckland Litigation

    It took about one year but we got our two days in court. The judge heard our case against Auckland Council and they put up their best defence, as they should. Now we wait for a decision, expected by the end of the year.

    The arguments were submitted in writing before they were presented to the judge in person, but they were able to be challenged and refined through questions from His Honour. While it was difficult to hear the words of my affidavit selectively used and abused by lawyers for Auckland Council, I understand their job is to give their client the best defence. And that they did, just as our lawyers presented our case in a convincing manner.

    There is little doubt in my mind that we have the stronger position. But I’m not the judge.

    What I hadn’t appreciated well enough before sitting in the back of the packed room, despite reading the submissions from both sides, was the importance of the decision that needs to be made about whether Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) - the Council Controlled Organisation that controls the large venues in Auckland - is a purely commercial operation.

    The reason this is such an important point is that the NZ Bill of Rights is only applicable to branches of government or acts in the performance of a public function.

    I would not have been interested enough to put my name to the case if this was a purely commercial dispute. While it would disappointing for a private business to prevent a speaking event on the basis of activist pressure; it is unacceptable (and illegal) for a government body to trade away our fundamental freedoms in the face of vague threats. Especially when, as we heard in court, the evidence is that there was no consultation with the Police and not even a bona fide discussion with security experts advising the promoters.

    The Council lawyers put forward arguments trying to distance RFA from the council and, in doing so, highlighted the sad reality that this court case was brought urgently on the basis of a lie told by the Mayor of Auckland.

    Mr Goff had publicly and explicitly stated that he was responsible for cancelling the talk, apparently thinking this was some sort of moral imperative and suggesting that anyone else with views he disagrees with strongly will be barred from public facilities if he so chooses.

    Thankfully, I suppose, the Mayor was lying.

    However, even without a direct edict from the Mayor’s office - from where RFA staff were told that Mr Goff had “itchy Twitter fingers” in the lead-up to the decision - it is somewhat absurd to even suggest that a Council Controlled Organisation that Auckland ratepayers subsidise more than $24 million annually and which was established by council for the purposes of serving the public is completely private.

    Though, the law is strict and not always reflective of what us common people might think. If, for some technical reason, the judge determines that RFA has no public function and this was a purely commercial decision, then the case will go no further. It will only pose more questions - like why are ratepayers bankrolling the facilities, why was the Mayor’s office emailing a private company engaging in a private transaction, and does this mean all other Council Controlled Organisations (like Watercare, Auckland Transport, etc) are also exempt from adhering to our Bill of Rights.

    It would seem to my lay mind that RFA is clearly acting in a public function and there happens to also be a commercial element to their decision-making. After all, it would be irresponsible for such expensive assets to not consider commercial realities entirely. Should the judge agree that RFA is serving the public, the next question becomes how much care was taken by RFA staff to ensure the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights were considered in the decision to cancel the event - particularly freedom of thought, expression, and peaceful assembly. 

    This also seems manifestly straightforward to me. It seems clear that a “thugs veto” was upheld in this case and that is a precedent that we must not allow to stand.

    Nevertheless, Council lawyers tried to convince the judge that consultation with the NZ Police wasn’t necessary even though RFA did send them an email (after the decision to cancel was made) and there was evidence presented about particularities that make the Bruce Mason Centre unsafe in the face of any sort of protest. The latter admission is quite extraordinary and, if we cannot truly protect a venue from protesters, raises uncomfortable questions about the appropriateness of ratepayer-funded venues and the power of those who would want to disrupt an event.

    While I don’t begrudge Auckland Council’s counsel putting forward their case as best they could, the real travesty of the proceedings as far as I am concerned was the “intervention” of the Human Rights Commission.

    The first function of the Human Rights Commission, according to the legislation is was created under, is to advocate and promote for human rights in NZ society. However, their submission to this court case did the opposite. The HRC lawyers suggested that freedom to form an opinion is only applicable in private – that freedom of thought does not extend to being allowed to adopt thoughts or beliefs at a public event. They also tried to argue that the “heckler’s veto” should be allowable under our laws and generally seemed to support the decision to ban the speakers on the basis that their speech was “hateful and dangerous” and they made a comparison between the proposed event at an RFA facility and activities in a gang headquarters.

    Whatever the judge decides, a precedent will be set that speaks one way or another to the importance of free expression in our country (or the public nature of organisations that we heavily subsidise). But the Human Rights Commission has once again shown that they are more than happy to caveat those freedoms, regardless.

    The 2017 submission of the HRC to the United Nations, in which they urged the UN to pressure the New Zealand government to introduce laws against “disharmonious speech” is another clear example of the agenda that the HRC is pursuing. 

    I’d like to think that their wish for “hate speech” laws is based on good intention. Unfortunately, the intention doesn’t matter when the laws are in place and so easily abused by those in power or those who wish to exercise a “thug’s veto”. We have seen this overseas, for example, in countries like the UK where “hate speech” laws have done nothing to decrease racism or discrimination but are responsible for good people being taken to jail by Police.

    The RFA case was brought under urgency. When it was clear the Mayor was lying to us all, the urgency subsided and, after a year of waiting, we now only have a few more months until we hear the decision. While the wheels of our justice system have been turning, we have seen similar incidents occur - at Massey University, for example - and this underscores the importance of our case.

    It is unfortunate but events like those at Massey University, the threatened arrest of a street preacher, and the continuing agenda driven by the HRC show that, whatever the decision is in this case, there will still be work to do to ensure we all actually have the freedoms outlined in our legislation and they aren’t undermined or eroded. That’s why the Free Speech Coalition was formed and continues. And it has been able to do the good work because of your generous support. I hope we will not be needed in the future but am committed to fighting until that dream becomes a reality.


    Dr David Cumin

    Dr Cumin is an Auckland-based academic with research interests in medical informatics and simulation in healthcare, and an active member of the Jewish community in New Zealand.


  • Media relaxed with state moves to police "harm" in broadcasts

    By John Drinnan

    There is reason to be nervous about a new strategy for the Broadcasting Standards Authority to focus on “harm” when administering the codes. The new strategy is being developed in tandem with a government review of the legal approach to “hate”. “Hate” is like “harm” - a word that people will seek to define for their own purposes.

    Radio New Zealand Mediawatch producer Colin Peacock interviewed BSA chairman Judge Bill Hastings (chief film censor from 1998 to 2010) and chief executive Belinda Moffatt about the change. 

    Of course, this is not happening in a vacuum. Free speech is being hammered around the world, powered by cultural turmoil and censorious politicians. The BSA insists it is taking a neutral stance, however the timing of this change to the code is worrying.

    Further limits of what the news media can say or repeat is dangerous in a time of rapid change. And so far, the media that were once the champions of free speech have been remarkably silent on this clear danger. 

    The New Zealand media have been replete with comments that seeks to “unify” themselves by identifying views that are beyond the pale. Some, like RNZ and Newshub, imagine a burgeoning white supremacist movement here after the March 15 terrorist attack. The media collective known as the “Media Freedom Committee” volunteered restricted coverage of the Brenton Tarrant trial. 

    This does not serve these news companies in the way they think it will. Soon more people will turn to local publications or overseas that remain independent from the state. 

    Equally as worrying are the powers of purportedly independent bodies like the BSA.

    The BSA chief executive Belinda Moffatt says that the standards watchdog is “always concerned about freedom of speech” with a high threshold to warrant intervention, yet she defends this dangerous adoption of a test for harm. There are a number of other members of the BSA are position there by politicians. This is hardly independent.

    While the BSA decisions are subject to judicial review in the High Court, this is only useful or those that can be bothered, or that can afford them. There is an obvious cost barrier for free speech so far as BSA appeals are concerned. The number cases too expensive to appeal will only increase with the importation of the subjective “harm” factor the BSA is proposing.

    The BSA insists it “consults with ‘the community’” on changes in strategy, and subsequently any review of the codes. That means talking to interest groups including ethnic, religious and LGBT groups. “For a specific complaint that may arise where there is a cultural issue, we might look to how it affects the Samoan or Thai or Maori community, Moffatt says.

    “We would talk to anyone who wanted to talk to us. We receive communications from Family First and Better Public Media,” says Moffatt, “We look across a range of articles in the media.”

    It is not just in the BSA that there are concern about the political independence of those that hold the levers of power so far as speech arises. Another former chief film censor and chief executive of NZ on Air, Jane Wrightson, allocates public money toward media. Broadcasters have a representative who has traditionally acted as a brake to restrictions. Nowadays it is former Mediaworks radio CEO Wendy Palmer.

    Journalists and the wider media might have acted on supposedly self-interested support of free speech in the past. But they are no longer reliable.

    The BSA needs to seek out views that promote freedom – not academics who promote ways to trim, censor and control.

  • The speech censors given a free media pass

    David Seymour’s proposal to abolish the Human Rights Commission reflects widespread suspicion that is has become a taxpayer-funded nest for people plotting to end the freedoms it was established to protect. As Janet Albrechtsen explained last week in The Australian, the same problem afflicts Australia. Instead of defending free speech the Australian Human Rights Commission has been among the institutions trying to punish people who challenge politically correct views.

    The Australian is behind a strict pay-wall, so Janet has authorised the Free Speech Coalition to reproduce her article below. Unfortunately we cannot reproduce the long list of comments the article attracted.

    Janet is a highly qualified lawyer but is best known for her journalism, having been a published commentator in most of Australia’s quality news media.

    Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been described as a handbook for difficult times. In a week that marks its publication 70 years ago, please open the handbook for some guidance, for these difficult times.

    Last week Australian Federal Police officers rifled through the home of a News Corp journalist and the offices of ABC journalists. Nothing flashy, no brown-shirted stormtroopers kicking in doors. Just a team of polite civil servants, ordering sandwiches and coffee while they rummaged through homes and workplaces, armed with slippery words in laws to justify them infringing our freedoms.

    Outraged journalists said it was chilling. Alas, many of these same journalists have not been doing their job if they haven’t noticed this is how free speech is silenced today. In the past decade a growing cadre of civil servants, from human rights commissioners to university vie-chancellors, all good mannered, nicely dressed people have used crafty works in laws and other instruments to curb out most fundamental right to speak freely.

    Many of the same journalists who, last week, held up signs for the cameras saying that it is not a crime to be a journalist having not raised so much as an eyebrow about other dismally illiberal events. That makes them complicit in a stifling culture that gave rise to last week’s AFP raids. After all, a free press is only one part of our basic right to speak freely. If you don’t defend the latter, expect to lose the former soon enough.

    Orwell warned us to watch out for New Speak, Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth; their common denominators is slippery language to control speech in order to control how people think. So it came to pass. More than 10 years ago, the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Canada investigated a complaint brought against commentator Ezra Levant for publishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The complaint was dropped, but not before a bureaucrat questioned Levan about his intention in publishing the cartoons.

    Levant described it like this: “No six-foot brown shirt here, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my politcal thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about is and recommend that the government do this or that to me.

    “I had half-expected a combative, missionary-style interrogator. I found, instead, a limp clerk who was just punching the clock … In a way, that’s more terrifying,” he wrote about the process that reminded him of Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil.

    While a handful of journalists in Australia recognised the early danger signs, many of those outraged by last week’s AFP raids showed little interest. Even when the same thing happened here a few years later, they fell silent.

    In 2011, Andrew Bolt was prosecuted under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for causing offence by pointing out the foibles of claiming indigenous ancestry. In passing, the judge frowned over the tone of his writing. The Australian Human Rights Commission used the same laws to investigate The Australian’s Bill Leak in 2016 for his powerful cartoon about the complex issues of individual responsibility and the dismal plight of indigenous people. Liberal MP Julian Leeser once said of the UN Human Rights Council: “We read Orwell as a warning; they read Orwell as a textbook.” His observation applies equally to the AHRC: as race commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane encouraged complaints to come forward over Leak’s cartoon.

    The AHRC toyed with students from Queensland University of Technology too after they made innocuous comments on Facebook when they were kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. One student wrote: “QUT stopping segregation with segregation.” What part of that was untrue? Yet it took two years of complaints, investigations, interviews and mounting legal bills before the complaint was thrown out. And the chilling effect of those laws remains intact.

    Some of us have reported extensively on the creeping, and creepy, mission of the AHRC. It needs to be renamed; its name is an insult to genuine human rights. And these dismal events need to be laid out, over and over again, until we defeat an illiberal culture that is strangling freedom of expression, the single most important piece of machinery that drives a robust marketplace of ideas. It is the centrifugal force of Western progress.

    Last year, physics professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for raising questions about the quality of climate research by some of his colleagues. The university used a code of conduct and claims of “collegial behavior” to get him off campus. ABC HQ showed no interest in asking why the university didn’t encourage a debate about Ridd’s claims or even why it shut him down.

    During the federal election, the ABC’s senior journalists showed no interest when Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he wanted hate speech laws to regulate the media to hold the likes of Bolt, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny to account. This proposal would kill a free, independent media in Australia. Hate speech, as defined by the like of Di Natale, will be defined by the media they hate. Orwell warned us about this, too. The ABC gave Di Natale a free pass.

    There was no ABC outrage, only nonchalance, when the Gillard government proposed an Orwellian regime of government oversight to make the media “balanced” and “accountable”. As James Paterson, now a Liberal senator, wrote then: “The last time that media outlets were subject to press licensing in the English-speaking world was 1693. What was too tyrannical for the English in the time of William and Mary is apparently acceptable in 21st-century Australia.”

    Note the manipulation of subjective language to curb free speech: the AFP relies on “national security” to search a journalist’s underwear drawer, the Gillard government wanted to legislate for a “balance” and “accountable” media, 18C prohibits people saying things that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate”, the Greens want to outlaw “hate speech”, and a university relied on “collegial behavior”.

    It is critical that we constantly check where society, governments and bureaucracies draw lines to restrict free speech. Journalists want buffer zones around themselves to protect a free press. Fair enough. But where the heck they been when it comes to defending the rights of other Australians to speak freely?

    High-profile hosts at the ABC paid taxpayers to report and comment on this country should be been at the frontline, championing out rights to speak, to draw and to debate freely. As Canadian commentator Mark Steyn famously said about free speech, it is not a left-right thing. It is a free-unfree thing. And therein lies the curse of the modern left: a pusillanimous attitude towards a core piece of intellectual machinery necessary in a healthy democracy.

    By Janet Albrechtsen

    Opinion columnist for the Australian

  • Journalists have an interest in free speech

    John Drinnan says "There is a tendency to accept that people with unorthodox views in the current milieu must be policed and punished. It goes against the notion of objectivity and balance that some of us still expect from media."

    News media and journalists have a vital interest in maintaining freedom of speech. Yet we cannot rely on them to challenge the current push for expanding current hate speech laws.

    Some media and journalists are sleepwalking into more censorship.

    This goes beyond the “What Me Worry” approach to the government review and the attempt to expand the laws surrounding hate speech. There is a tendency to accept that people with unorthodox views in the current milieu must be policed and punished. It goes against the notion of objectivity and balance that some of us still expect from media


    After the Christchurch massacre, Justice Minister Andrew Little brought forward his review of the Human Rights Act. Activists and the Human Rights Commission have long argued the Act should ban criticism of groups and not just individuals.

    My problem is not with the debate about hate speech – but the ‘one-sidedness’ and the lack of interest in fighting for freedom of speech. Many journalists depict goodies and baddies in politics, religion and ideology. Most media companies go along with that. I see few moves to regulate bias and ensure balance or fight for freedom of speech.

    The outrage over Israel Folau is a case in point. Some journalists were outraged by the notion of a Rugby player with a deeply conservative view of Christianity warning that under scriptures, homosexuals were bound for hell. Ironically, similar views to Folau are common in the Muslim community, but these are beyond reproach in the current mood.

    Folau’s commercial obligations to Australian Rugby and sponsors is relevant, but many journalists love talking morality, and presenting the (partisan) argument that he should not be able to say things that offend.

    Likewise, Act leader David Seymour saying that Green MP Golriz Gharahaman comments made her a menace to freedom of speech. Green Party and other activist supporters of controlled speech are entitled to take the view that this is inappropriate. But in the past news media would’ve inserted some centrist logic, pointing out that politicians are, in fact, allowed to criticise one another. The Media, instead, promote the outrage on both ends of the debate, totting up the online clicks. I am arguing for some context that freedom of speech is a foundation of our politics. This idea seems to be beyond news media in the current zeitgeist.

    At a personal level, I hope that media companies can challenge the mood and actively promote freedom of speech. Some journalists I have spoken to - such as Radio New Zealand media commentator Colin Peacock – say that the proposed changes under the review have not been decided. There is nothing for media to challenge yet. But the argument for controlled speech is established and circulating. It is dangerous for media to wait until it is a fait accompli.

    Justice Minister Andrew Little has claimed he is profoundly in favour of free speech. But there is an authoritarian streak in this Government. National has not yet expressed an opinion. Ironically, New Zealand First may be the only political party prepared to protect this liberal value. Media companies have a few opinionated ‘outsider’ journalists who have fought the good fight. Magic FM's Sean Plunket and Dominion Post columnist Karl Du Fresne – have provided smart prescient opinions. So too have left-wing commentators Chris Trotter and Martyn Bradbury. But I struggle to think of any high profile journalist under 40 years who is concerned by the push for more controls of speech. Do New Zealanders care? Not if the debate is restricted to only academics and politicians. Maybe more people would be animated if the Media connected the topic of free speech to our core values.

    The government, human rights lawyers and activists are trying to tell New Zealanders what you can and cannot say when debating ideas. There is an argument to have around human rights. But it works both ways – for the assigned victims, and for those that want to keep talking. And the media has an obligation to present that.

    An opinion piece by journalist John Drinnan.

  • Is New Zealand a Racist Country? | NZ, racism, hypocrisy & free speech

    - Dr David Cumin

    I was asked to answer an important question at a recent event hosted by the Indian community in New Zealand: Is NZ a racist country?

    The question was clearly based off a comment that Taika Waititi made in 2018 - calling New Zealand "racist as F*ck" - but the terror attacks in Christchurch on March 15th that have shocked our nation mean it is more important than ever to address the question.

    It is very easy to point to historical examples of egregious racism in New Zealand. The poll tax on Chinese, banning Te Reo Maori from being spoken at schools, and preventing all but a few Jewish refugees from Europe are all examples of state-endorsed racism; not to mention the other crimes of colonialism against Maori.


    It's also easy to point to modern examples of racism that would suggest Taika is spot on:

    And I could go on - the list is seemingly endless.

    However, the historic, discriminating laws have been revoked and we've even repealed our blasphemy law. Each of the examples I gave above is just that - an example. They don't prove that NZ is a racist country; all they prove is that there are racists within New Zealand. And which country is without racists?

    Taking a step back, the response of Kiwis to egregious racism and bigotry is almost always overwhelmingly positive. Just consider the outpouring of Aroha (love)- in the form of mountains of flowers left at mosques, millions of dollars in donations, and countless tears shed at events - after the Christchurch terror attacks.

    And consider that New Zealand is one of only 88 nations considered to be "free" in the world. And within those free nations, we are consistently found to be one of the most tolerant people, according to the World Values Survey. Though, it's not only the goodwill of most Kiwis that puts us there - we also have good laws against discrimination and a proud tradition of debate and self-reflection.

    In the words of the late, great, John Clark's character Fred Dagg, "We don't know how lucky we are".

    There is clearly room for improvement but let's not lose perspective and throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Unfortunately, however, there seem to be increasing calls for exactly that - for radical changes to our country's democracy in order to combat a sense that the entire system is somehow racist.

    The people leading the charge have two major flaws that I can see beyond the flimsy premise of their activism. The first is the dangerously misguided focus on laws to censure "hate speech", and the second is obvious hypocrisy that undermines their messaging.

    The hypocrisy is best exemplified in three examples: The Human Rights Commission has been at the fore of seeking "hate speech" legislation as a means to sanction "disharmonious speech targeted at the religion and beliefs of ethnic minority communities", yet the HRC doesn't seem able to stand up to hate speech when it's present - the Chief Human Rights Commissioner refused to condemn antisemitismpresent in his former political party despite being given four chances in a RadioNZ interview by Kim Hil.

    The Green Party of New Zealand has also been calling for restrictions to speech and yet their most vocal proponent of new stifling legislation, Golriz Ghahraman, made comments at a rally in Auckland that the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand called a “grotesque distortion… inaccurate, inflammatory and fuelling hate speech”. Golriz and the Green party have refused to engage with the Jewish community to address the issue and seek to control the speech of Kiwis.

    And one more example of hypocrisy is the lack of any challenge or statement from "Love Aotearoa, Hate Racism" organisers when a community leader at one of their events blamed Mossad and "Zionist business houses" for the Christchurch terror attacks. Such a blatantly antisemitic and dangerous conspiracy theory must be condemned, especially at a time when tensions are hightened. Yet a rally organiser told reporters that it was "just one speaker out of 30".

    Even if we accept the hypocrisy and accept that, to paraphrase Orwell's Animal Farm, some "hate speech" will be more hateful than others, the call for legislation against "hate speech" is deeply flawed. It's not only because of the theoretical arguments around how to define it or who gets to decide what is punishable and what is not - there are actual examples from overseas we can learn from.

    Oxford academic, Timothy Ash, found that countries with "hate speech" laws did not have lower rates of discrimination or abuse. The conclusion is clear - the laws don't do what proponents claim they will do. Furthermore, "hate speech" laws have been used to punish bad jokes, teenagers quoting rap lyrics, a mother "misgendering" someone online, and many other examples of good citizens being punished for their words. The scope for politicians abusing the law to shut down opposition to them as "hate speech" is also a serious concern, as it happens in some of the majority of countries not rated “free”.

    We must be able to have robust debates and to challenge ideas and be challenged by them. It is this process that led to the repeal of the Chinese Poll Tax, that underpins the Treaty Settlement Process, that has us discussing compulsory Te Reo Maori classes now, that helped New Zealand lead the world in giving women the vote, and that eventually gave homosexuals the right to a civil union here in Aotearoa. The debates must continue without the spectre of arrest or fine for "hate speech".

    New Zealand will always have its racists and we all have a responsibility to stand up to racism and bigotry when we see it. We must be able to join together and call them out and challenge them - even when they claim to be "anti-racist". That is how we move from "Kiwi Experience" being a not-so-subtle racist code to just a good-time bus tour of our beautiful land.

  • Why Golriz Ghahraman should not be the guardian of our speech

    For a first-time list MP who made it into Parliament by the skin of her teeth, and is in a minor party that maybe is or isn’t in government (depending on what day it is and who you ask), Golriz Ghahraman sure gets a lot of attention. I’m loathe to add to it, but her self-appointed role as chief champion of hate speech law reform demands it.

    Now, to pre-empt those who apparently consider skin pigmentation determines credentials to comment on this subject, I confess that my skin is some shade of white, though Hitler and his henchmen considered my people most definitely not white, as did the white supremacist gunman who massacred 11 of my people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last year. For those who can see past skin pigmentation, it’s worth remembering Jews (my family included) have a history of persecution and discrimination and that they are still vulnerable; in every Western country where hate crime statistics are maintained, Jews are increasingly disproportionately represented, more so than any other group. I’ve had quite a bit of hate mail (both snail mail and social media) and for those who think lived experience matters when discussing this issue, I believe I have enough of it.

    But enough about me. Let’s talk about Ghahraman. There is no doubt she is the target of bigotry. As a country we should all be proud that we have our first refugee MP. The idea that a person who came to the country as a refugee decades ago should be beholden to its beneficence and not participate in democracy in a way other citizens can is repugnant. New Zealand is her home, not her host. It’s abhorrent to suggest she’s a “plant” for Iran, or should return there. It is her democratic right to criticise this country, including its foundational values, if she so chooses, and to argue for a dilution of democratic rights, as she does in championing new hate speech laws.

    It is possible, and important, to challenge her ideas on this subject without attacking her because of her identity. If we are to have a mature, nuanced debate about this, a touchstone for the health and robustness of our democratic society, it is incumbent upon those on both sides of the debate to distinguish between attacks on people because of their race or gender and a critique of ideas and actions.

    We should have this debate with the presumption that its participants all want the same outcome – for New Zealand to be a safe and inclusive place for all people, and to minimise the chances of such a heinous attack occurring again. But there is a legitimate debate to be had about how to achieve that outcome. It should not just be readily accepted that the best way to protect vulnerable groups is through new restrictions on speech. Questioning that proposition does not mean you worry about or are affected by racism any less than Ghahraman, or are complicit in it, or are a less worthy person than her. Unfortunately, however, those who disagree with and challenge Ghahraman are often attributed with the worst motives, demeaned and smeared.

    If Ghahraman wants to engender the public’s trust that this isn’t a censorship exercise, she will need to avoid accusing her critics of white supremacy or privilege, and refrain from threatening defamation with the elitist reminder that she has “a LOT of free legal resource to draw on”. Rather than shutting down debate, she will need to show that she can engage in good faith with the arguments as to the philosophical underpinnings of freedom of speech and the practical problems with further restricting it.

    Thus far, Ghahraman’s articulation of her ideas do not withstand scrutiny on even the most superficial level. Perhaps this is why she decided that the best medium to communicate them is in an infantile comic strip. Her statements are not considered, consistent or credible and she provides scant evidence or robust reasoning.

    For a start, her conclusion that our liberal laws on hate speech were at least in part to blame for the mosque attacks seems somewhat premature, given that she announced this before the investigation is completed as to how, when and where the gunman was radicalised, let alone before the victims had even been laid to rest.

    Also, if you are hoping to persuade people that hate speech should be criminalised, you might first want to offer a definition of hate speech. When Ghahraman was interviewed on Newshub Nation, she was asked upfront how to define hate speech. She waffled around for some time but did not offer a concise definition. She seemed to equate hate speech with group defamation, omitting the crucial point that hate speech laws criminalise speech, while defamation is a civil action with defences of truth and honest opinion.

    Personally, I have some sympathy with the view that there is a lacuna in the Human Rights Act (which essentially prohibits incitement to violence against racial groups), and I agree with undertaking a review to see whether it should be extended to protect faith-based and gender-based groups, for example. But if she is thinking that the prohibition should be expanded beyond that, she needs to make the case. Is there any evidence that restricting hate speech works and reduces racism?

    I feel sickened when I see comments that Hitler should have finished the job or “jokes” about ovens and lampshades, but there is a legitimate argument that racism and bigotry can only be combatted if it is in the open, where it can be seen, challenged, and monitored. Banning the expression of hateful ideas does not make them go away. It just means they’re festering in a dark fetid basement. And attempting to suppress them provides fertile ground for the conspiracy theories, resentment and victim mentality that they seem to thrive in.

    Historically, freedom of speech applied to enable the oppressed and the disenfranchised to achieve emancipation and equality. It gave those in the civil rights, gay rights and feminism movements a chance to speak truth to power. Any time we are told by those in power that we must cede individual rights for the greater good we should be very suspicious. And we should tread very carefully before we allow those who have the privilege of being in power – like Ghahraman – to determine what identity groups require protection (do Christians, white men and gender critical lesbians?), and to erode the rights of those who are not considered worthy of such protection to say what they want.

    Last year, Ghahraman accused Israel of genocide at an anti-Israel rally following a particularly violent day on the Gaza border. Now, plenty of people have accused Israel of a disproportionate response, and had she done so, it wouldn’t rate anything more than a passing mention. In fact, given her self-proclaimed role as the first woman in New Zealand to hold the defence portfolio, I would have been keenly interested in hearing her proffer her expertise on how the IDF should respond proportionately to armed Hamas and Islamic Jihad members hiding behind smokescreens and human shields, attacking a border with the stated aim of breaking through and murdering Jewish communities living close by.

    But accusations of genocide are quite another matter. Of course, Ghahraman has no evidence that Israel is committing genocide against Gazans. It would be the first genocide in history in which the target population is increasing rapidly, child mortality has fallen, and life expectancy has increased. She also overlooks that Israel is fighting a war against a terrorist regime that oppresses Gazans and whose stated mission is Jewish genocide. She sees genocidal intent where it isn’t, and ignores it where it is.

    While it wasn’t direct incitement to violence, it potentially endangers the Jewish community, who would likely be associated with complicity in genocide. So from what I can decipher about Ghahraman’s views on what constitutes hate speech, based on examples she’s cited and accusations she’s made, she would seem to have fallen foul of her own definition.

    The New Zealand Jewish Council, the representative body of the Jewish community, wrote to her about this, and got no reply. Two months later it wrote again, copying in her co-leaders, and still got no reply. This is a deliberate marginalisation of the Jewish community. According to Phil Quin, she also ignored the entreaties of a young Rwandan survivors group, except for one dismissive tweet. It’s hard to imagine a more persecuted people than survivors of genocide. This pattern would seem to suggest her concern for vulnerable communities is rather more selective and politically expedient than she might like people to believe.

    It’s hard to take someone seriously who wants to criminalise people for their harmful words, but is not prepared to be held to account for her own harmful words. Such is the far left’s belief in their own moral superiority that, while they point the finger of blame at others with alacrity, they appear to lack the self-awareness and self-reflection that would lead them to at least wonder whether they themselves are complicit in contributing to a divisive and hateful society.

    The renowned Jewish American constitutional lawyer and civil libertarian, Professor Alan Dershowitz, who defended the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie where many Holocaust survivors lived, posits the “shoe on the other foot” test. It’s much easier to be nonchalant about the importance of freedom of speech when you’re smug in the belief that it’s only speech you disapprove of, and not your own, that will be censored.

    NZ has a proud history of stable and long-standing democracy and robust rule of law, but are we prepared to trust that we will always have a benign, moderate government, authorities that do not overreach, or courts that apply a high threshold before they rule that speech should be censored? We now know for sure that our little islands are not immune to the ugly and violent forces sweeping the world, and we take our democracy, the rights that go with it and the institutions that uphold it, for granted at our peril.

    – This article was written by Juliet Moses, an Auckland-based lawyer and originally published on Shalom.Kiwi

  • Censorship is the Snake in the Garden

    It seems incredible now but there was a time when nearly every New Zealand suburb had a beautiful movie theatre. They could be rather baroque affairs too, with mezzanine levels and carpet on the walls. My locals were “The Starlight” in Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, where I saw “Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (in possibly the greatest double-feature ever), “Rocky’s 2, 3 & 4” and “Return of The Jedi”. The first “Rocky” I saw at the “Orpheus” on Station Rd, Otahuhu, on a rare day out with my father.

    The majestic Orpheus became a porn cinema in its waning years on the way to its final insult – an evangelical church. My friends and I, aged about 13 and wanting in on the action, purchased tweed jackets from the local Salvation Army store that, for some reason, we thought would suitably age us. We needn’t have made the effort. The old man working the ticket stall took one look at me and the moth-eaten sleeves extending well beyond my pointer finger, before taking my $5 and making me promise aloud I’d “shut my eyes during all the dirty bits”.

    On the second level, entering the mezz, there was wall to wall posters of past films that had screened at the cinema. An “A Clockwork Orange” poster, with the iconic design of chief Droog Alex stepping through the “A” leading with a blade, struck me as instantly iconic, but what really intrigued me was the “R20” label at the bottom of it. As soon as I had identified the film as a forbidden fruit, my young mind seized on it.

    I had to see it.

    I developed an obsession, the first of many I would have, with censored material. I read every scrap of information on both the film and Kubrick I could find, staring at publicity stills in books for library hours, hoping they’d suddenly come to life and reveal the film’s delights. 

    I finally saw the film and it didn’t disappoint. It also didn’t seem to impact me negatively. At least, not in the way “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” did. I could smell the death in that film emanating off the Beta-tape. The character of “Leatherface” was so grotesque and troubling that he and his saw visited me every night for close on a year. The film traumatized me to the point that I thought I may even be having a nervous breakdown. And then I did it to myself all over again with the “Friday the 13th“ series.  

    The odd thing about horror films is that they are an adult product that targets children. This is where their impact is maximized, in the minds of people who could buy the possibility of a Freddy Kruger. As for the harm they can inflict upon young eyes, what if I wanted to be harmed? What if that was the point? What if I wanted to be pushed to my limit by the confronting imagery? What if I wanted to stare into the abyss? From memory, something like 6 or 8 murders happened in my small community (Otahuhu) growing up, including the murder-suicide of a solo mother and her two beautiful children I went to school with. Horror was real, and all around us in economically-deprived South Auckland. We couldn’t avoid it, so why not stare it down? A horror film, in this context, seemed the safest environment to train ourselves for the inevitable. A censor’s label, therefore, remains for me a bit of a head-scratch, as it was often the sole reason my friends and I would select, rather than avoid, a magazine or film.

    There’s no doubt an evolutionary and developmental component to getting around censorship. To assert one’s independence can mean assuming the identity you know your parents, or wider society, will disapprove of the most. Shep Gordon, the long-time manager of “Alice Cooper” spent years seeking out the gimmick that would make parents hate his client. Being hated by the old was to be loved by the young, and, in this context, to be censored was a coup. On a state level, what power deems intolerable is instantly made more attractive to certain quarters of society, simply by the decree.

    Censorship is an enticement, always has been, and always will be. We imbue art and politics with a magnetism they often don’t deserve when we ban them, making their pursuit irresistible, a rite of passage even, for the young.

    Knowing this, would the stain on humanity responsible for the atrocity in Christchurch be disappointed to know his manifesto is now banned in NZ?

    Or would he consider the NZ government in his employ?

  • How Hate Speech Laws Violate Equality

    Since at least 2017, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has sought to broaden the definition of hate speech, seeing that existing laws had been "unable to be utilized in respect of religious hate speech directed at Muslim New Zealanders, who, for the most part, belong to a variety of ethnic minority communities in New Zealand”.

    In the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, Justice Minister Andrew Little has now pledged to work alongside the HRC to “fast-track” (a term you never want to hear when freedoms are at stake) a widespread review that would include deciding if hate speech (including the aforementioned religious hate speech) should be established as its own separate offense.  

    It was interesting (and potentially telling, regarding the HRC’s unhelpful ideological bent) that Jews weren’t mentioned in the 2017 HRC text considering how vulnerable we currently are to demonization from both the Hard-Left and Right. Internationally, more than 50% of the hate crimes recorded against a religious group are directed at Jews, who often make up less than 1% of a country’s population.

    If the government wants to protect Islam, with the reasoning that religious hatred attacks the dignity of a community, why not afford this to Judaism?

    Or even Zionism?

    Anti-Israel protests are carnivals of hate. Full of open taunts such as swastikas scrawled across Israeli flags, symbolic blood on hands in a perverse pantomime of the blood-liberal conspiracy and demands for the destruction of the Jewish homeland from the “river to the sea”, activists nevertheless dismiss allegations of racism outright. Criticism of Zionism, as we’re told, isn’t antisemitic, as Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism or even Jews per se. But this is not true, as the more seasoned agitators well know. The biblical “prophets” fill literally hundreds of pages in the “Old Testament” with their lamenting the loss of Israel and the promise of return. The early political Zionists may have been more influenced by the nationalist fervor of the late 19th century than their religious tradition, but Theodor Herzl (author of “The Jewish State” 1896) understood the importance of tying the concept to the biblical narrative. Use of the term “Zion” (a synonym for Jerusalem) that first appeared in the Davidic saga (Samuel 2) where the seeds for the messianic promise of return are sown, is quite deliberate. Only the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) could give the idea of a Jewish homeland legitimacy and a sense of permanence. As Chaim Weizmann would later say to the UN Special Committee on Palestine in 1947 -

    “(Moses) might have brought us to the United States, and instead of the Jordan might have had the Mississippi. It would have been an easier task. But he chose to stop here. We are an ancient people with old history, and you cannot deny your history and begin fresh."

    Do “anti-Zionist” protests, an attack on a Jewish religious concept, undermine the dignity of our local Jewish community? Considering that “Zionist”, which formerly meant a supporter of Jewish self-determination in historic Israel, to many now means a militant, or even heartless and murderous Jew, a colonizer, thief and manipulator of foreign governments, what should save its misuse, a misuse clearly designed to vilify Jews and supporters of Israel, from being part of new religious hate speech laws?

    The honest answer is there is no good reason why you wouldn’t include Zionism if this is the direction the government wants to take. But you could bet that the very same people pushing for restrictions now would be the chief force opposing any penalty for the criticism of Zionism. And herein lays the inherent corruption of hate speech laws and why they will always violate equality: in choosing which group deserves privilege, a far greater statement is made about those whose dignity they’d deny.   

    Dane Giraud

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