Full ban of ‘manifesto’ went too far according to some lawyers, not others

Some lawyers have said that the chief censors total ban of the Christchurch terrorist’s so-called manifesto went too far, but it isn’t a universal view.

Classification Office: Christchurch attack publication ‘The Great Replacement’ classified objectionable

A publication reportedly written by the terrorist behind the fatal attacks in Christchurch, has been officially classified as objectionable.

“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism. It is objectionable under New Zealand law,” says Chief Censor David Shanks.

The document, examined under the Films, Videos & Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPCA), is deemed objectionable for a number of reasons.

“It promotes, encourages and justifies acts of murder and terrorist violence against identified groups of people, ” says Mr Shanks.

“It identifies specific places for potential attack in New Zealand, and refers to the means by which other types of attack may be carried out. It contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty, such as the deliberate killing of children.”

“We have dealt with terrorist promotional material before which was deliberately designed to inspire, encourage and instruct other like-minded individuals to carry out further attacks. For example we have found a number of ISIS publications to be objectionable in previous decisions. This publication falls in the same category.”

An objectionable classification for this publication is considered to be a justifiable limit on freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights Act in this case.

“There is an important distinction to be made between ‘hate speech’, which may be rejected by many right-thinking people but which is legal to express, and this type of publication, which is deliberately constructed to inspire further murder and terrorism,” says Mr Shanks.

“It crosses the line.”

It is recognised that the publication has been widely reported on over the past week, with many media outlets publishing commentary on it, and sometimes providing links to it or downloadable copies. Many New Zealanders may have read it, possibly seeking answers for why this dreadful atrocity took place.

Most people reading the publication will not be harmed by it. “Most New Zealanders who have read this will simply find it repellent. But most New Zealanders are not the target audience. It is aimed at a small group who may be receptive to its hateful, racist and violent ideology, and who may be inspired to follow the example set by its apparent author.”

It is an offence to possess or distribute an objectionable publication. People who have downloaded this document, or printed it, should destroy any copies.

Those engaged in further reporting on the Christchurch attack may be tempted to consider the use of quotes from the publication that have already been used in other media reports.

“That use of excerpts in media reports may not in itself amount to a breach of the FVPCA, but ethical considerations will certainly apply,” said Shanks.

“Real care needs to be taken around reporting on this publication, given that widespread media reporting on this material was clearly what the author was banking on, in order to spread their message.”

“We also appreciate that there will be a range of people, including reporters, researchers and academics, who will be in possession of the publication for a range of legitimate purposes, including education, analysis and in-depth reporting. Those individuals can apply for exemptions, so they can legitimately access and hold a copy.”

Information on this process can be found here.

“New Zealanders can all play a part in denying those who exhort hatred, killing and terror. If you have a copy of this publication, delete or destroy it. If you see it, report it. Do not support the murderous objectives of its author by republishing or distributing it.”

Personally I think that it should not be shared, distributed, published or linked to from here and have asked that that not be done here – although selected quotes to make specific points seems reasonable.

RNZ: Legal experts say censorship on gunman’s manifesto went too far

…the Free Speech Coalition said the manifesto could be important for society to understand a dark part of our history.

“Most New Zealanders will have no interest in reading the rants of an evil person,” coalition spokesman and constitutional lawyer Stephen Franks said.

“But there is a major debate going on right now on the causes of extremism.

“Kiwis should not be wrapped in cotton wool with their news and information censored. New Zealanders need to be able to understand the nature of evil and how it expresses itself.”

Journalists, researchers and academics could apply for an exemption to the ban, but that was not practical when working on tight deadlines, Mr Edgeler said.

“Given the censor says that there are groups of people that should have access, imposing a full ban seems the wrong way to go.

“It needs to be perhaps quite restricted – you have to be at least 18, you have to work for a news organisation which is subject to the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority or the New Zealand Media Council – and [it should be that] if you do that, yes, you can have a copy.”

But a lawyer with a different view:

But human rights lawyer Michael Bott said the ban was the right move, and requiring journalists and academics to make formal applications meant any dubious fringe publications or spurious research claims could be ruled out.

“The right to free speech can be constrained when it amounts to hate speech and there is a real risk that someone such as the Christchurch terrorist could basically become a martyr in the eyes of fringe groups who could then use the manifesto as a propaganda tool.

“The potential for harm is just so huge.”

Many publications that could pose a “risk of social harm” had been censored in New Zealand before this, Mr Bott said.

He said, historically, a number of left wing publications were banned in New Zealand, but more recent bans included Danish publication The Little Red School-Book that instructed schoolchildren on sex and drug use, and books with instructions for building guns.

The manifesto was dangerous because it promotes “views that are toxic to democratic society and a culture of tolerance”.

In this case they are reasonable reasons why it should not be distributed or published.

But that could be a slippery slope. Accusations of toxic views and claims of intolerance are common in politics.

I have no interest in reading the manifesto, and see no good reason why most people would want to read it, but it should be able to be examined by researchers and journalists.