The Streisand-Brash debate – free speech and protest allowed

There was a debate on free speech in Auckland last night, and of course most of the attention was on Don Brash and a few people protesting against him.

I didn’t watch the debate, I had more important things to do, but it was covered by some in comments here: Brash up-platformed in university debate tonight

RNZ:  Protesters confront Don Brash during debate

Former National Party leader Don Brash was last night front and centre of the free speech debate that’s been been making headlines in New Zealand and around the world.

Dr Brash was nearly booed off stage at the University of Auckland debate, before counter-protesters persuaded him back by chanting his name.

Dr Brash was joined by the New Conservative Party’s deputy leader Elliot Ikiley in arguing that PC culture gone has too far, to the point where it is limiting freedom of speech.

However, Dr Brash only got a few seconds to argue the point before he was drowned out by protesters.

At one stage a scuffle broke out and it looked like he was not going to continue speaking, before a section of the crowd beckoned him back.

Eventually he did get a chance to address the crowd of more than 500, arguing that the protests were a demonstration that the culture in New Zealand is inhibiting free speech.

“Anything which is a bit beyond the pale you really can’t talk about frankly,” he told the lecture theatre. “Issues relating to religion, sexual orientation, family structure, the rights of people of different races, climate change – you name it – you’ve got to tiptoe through those issues in New Zealand today.”

In the end, debate chairman Chris Ryan left it to the audience to decide who won, with both teams getting loud applause and cheers from the crowd – as well as a fair few boos.

Brash and the protesters dominated the report, with no indication given about the merits of the arguments of all the debaters.

But possibly most significantly, the right to free speech was a winner, as was the right to conduct protests.

The Massey event that was cancelled and this debate have proven the Streisand Effect – “a phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely” – has given Brash and the events far more publicity than they would have had if there were no bans or protests.