Massey, free speech, racism and Māori issues

The Massey University free speech debate flared up after politician (ex Leader of the Opposition) and activist on a number of issues Don Brash was prevented from speaking about his experience as a politician.

The person who cancelled the event that Brash was due to speak at, vice-chancellor, cited security issues, but it is clear she didn’t want Brash to speak due to what she claims is his ‘racism’.

17 July Jan Thomas (NZH): Free speech is welcome at universities, hate speech is not

Let me be clear, hate speech is not free speech. Moreover, as Moana Jackson has eloquently argued, free speech has, especially in colonial societies, long been mobilised as a vehicle for racist comments, judgements and practices.

Beyond the reach of the law, however, the battle against hate speech is fought most effectively through education and courageous leadership, rather than through suppression or legal censure.

And this is where universities can take positive action by providing a venue for reasoned discussion and cogent argument.

Universities are characterised by the academic values of tolerance, civility, and respect for human dignity.

And that is why it is important to identify and call out any shift from free speech towards hate speech. The challenge we face is to clarify when that shift occurs and to counter it with reason and compassion.

It should be countered with better arguments, not banning.

8 August (edited from an interview on Newstalk ZB): Massey vice chancellor Jan Thomas tries to explain Brash ban

What I have said was that ah there was an event held in ah the Manawatu here on our campus, ah from ah Hobson’s Pledge ah which ah was particularly offensive for ah particularly our Maori staff, and ah that is not the sort of thing that I would like to see at a university campus. Um that wasn’t ah Dr Brash speaking, um it was around ah Hobson’s Pledge that particular time.

So those sorts of events are events ah where the discussion um moves from being one ah of talking about ah the issues and evidence based ah good rational debate where people are able to speak about um their perspectives on a whole range of different things.

I also am quite happy to stand behind my comments that hate speech is not welcome on campus, and the way I would consider hate speech is ah when hate speech might demean or humiliate or silence groups of people based on a common trait, whether it be sexuality or religion or race or whatever, um because ah that is essentially ah the same as bullying of a larger group of people, and we don’t tolerate  bullying in the playground do we…

In emails (from Kiwiblog Massey lying over cancellation of Brash speech):

So I sum, I really want to find a way to indicate that Brash is not welcome on campus unless he agrees to abide by our values and the laws against hate speech.

The notion of exploring ideas and free speech on campus should be providing that it does not cause harm to others and does not break the laws. Hate speech had no place on our campus and as a te Tiriti led university our values need to be respected too. I feel a great deal of responsibility around the WHS responsibilities to our Māori staff and students.

I think these are quite common type views where there are valid concerns over biased and racist attacks on Māori (and other minority races in New Zealand, which most people have some connection to).

But it can also be used to shut down valid different opinions on Māori issues. Don Brash has become a major figure in these discussions since he became infamous for his NATIONHOOD – Don Brash Speech Orewa Rotary Club in 2004.

His more recent association with Hobson’s Pledge “He iwi tahi tatou: We are now one people.” has kept the attacks on him coming – and this played a part in Thomas’ ban. Like:

And:

The problem is that Brash just needs to open his mouth now to be called racist.

There are alternative views:

There are important issues facing Māori  in Aotearoa, and they should speak up on them, as many do. Of course there are a wide range of Māori views, and they should all feel free to speak up.

Non-Māori people should not be excluded from these debates – Māori  issues affect every New Zealander.

‘Hating’ someone else’s view does not mean there is hate speech.

I think it is important to, if anything, err towards allowing and enabling challenging views and debate, not shutting it down because someone claims that they are or may be offended.

People like Don Brash have as much right to speak as anyone – and Brash is very well aware of the scrutiny anything he says will get, and will be careful he sticks to carefully expressing his views on  contentious issues .

Jan Thomas:

What I do object to is where um speech that demeans or humiliates or silences groups of people based on a common trait. Ah in other words playing the man and not the ball, ah is ah is something that we don’t accept on a university campus, that everyone should feel that they can express their views in a way that is not um going to be subject to being demeaned or humiliated.

I think that Brash more than most plays the ball and not the man or woman.

Thomas banned the man and dropped the free speech ball. She has demeaned and humiliated herself.

People who try to stop speech they disagree with, whether they call it hate speech, racist or demeaning, end up demeaning their own arguments.

But this debate looks to be far from over, From a statement by the Tertiary Education Union President:

As predicted the “big blunder” at Massey may help free speech

On 7 August when Massey University vice-chancellor cancelled a student political event to prevent Don Brash from speaking I suggested that Massey’s Brash ban may help free speech:

…today when the Vice Chancellor of Massey University banned Don Brash from talking there there has been as near to universal concern and condemnation – and for good reason.

It is an alarming attempt to restrict speech – but this may turn out to be a good thing. It may be the overstep that is needed to encourage a decent debate about who should determine what sort of speech should be effectively censored.

Now Bryce Edwards writes Free speech has been strengthened at Massey

The attempt by the head of Massey University to ban Don Brash from speaking on campus last month has entirely backfired. Instead of Brash being undermined by her actions, it now looks like Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas is in danger of losing her position. What’s more, her actions have ended up reinforcing academic freedoms on campus.

He quotes from a Newstalk ZB interview with history professor Peter Lineham:

“I think it is a big, big blunder… this has put the university in a very bad light” and in terms of the university staff, “I think most people are uneasy about the decision”.

Lineham explained how the Academic Council met yesterday and “grilled” their boss. He gives an idea of how Massey staff feel, saying there was “intense discussion at Academic Board, because she seemed to have started off being very determined to find some way or other to stop Don Brash’s visit, and then retreated from it, and then up came the safety issue, which I think had it been looked at in the cold and hard light of day didn’t really amount to much.”

Perhaps Lineham’s most important point in the interview is about how campus free speech has actually been strengthened as a result of the Brash-ban debacle:

“I think we have recovered free speech a bit because this controversy has strongly marked the New Zealand campuses by the fact that vice chancellors – and this is happening throughout the world – cannot play nanny to the students. That’s a ridiculous role. The students can choose who they want to listen to, and can have whatever views they want. And I think this particular incident has made every vice chancellor realise that they need to keep their hands out of deciding what students should listen to.”

I hope that is the outcome of what was initially a debacle at Massey. I’m not sure it has been put to the test yet. That may happen next month when  Brash has been invited again to speak to students at Massey.

University staff are now openly signalling their unhappiness with the Vice Chancellor (who is akin to a chief executive). Deputy pro-vice chancellor Chris Gallavin has been speaking publicly about staff feelings. Appearing on RNZ yesterday he said:

“There is significant worry, and perhaps even distrust if not anger in the minds of many Massey University staff, that they may have been told an untruth or at very least not the whole story” – see: Don Brash cancellation: Censure motions against vice chancellor.

Gallavin explains the motions that academic staff are considering against Thomas, which will be voted on next month. The RNZ article reports: “Professor Gallavin said he had never heard of a board passing a censure motion against a vice-chancellor and it would send ‘a strong message’ to the Council about the staff’s ‘disappointment’.”

It should also send a strong message to other vice-chancellors and universities.

“Whether she should resign really revolves around that question as to whether she still has the trust and confidence of the staff”.

Should Thomas be pressured to resign? It would be a tough outcome for her, she is just one of a number of people who have tried to restrict free speech on campuses.

But I think a resignation or sacking would be a positive for free speech.

There would probably be a public down side, as it would encourage some to push harder for other resignations and sackings if a university official or academic sought to restrict or adversely influence free speech.

On the plus side, it would send a strong and clear message to universities that free speech is important and matters, especially in universities.

Students’ Association: “Massey Vice-Chancellor has broken our trust”

The Massey University academic Board has acknowledged that two motions of censure have been lodged against Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas, but they won’t be voted on for a month.

In the meantime the New Zealand University Student’s Association has put out a press release:


Massey Vice-Chancellor has broken our trust

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) is outraged by recent revelations that a Vice-Chancellor threatened to cut funding to a students’ association due to actions they disagreed with.

In emails released under the Official Information Act, Massey University Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas considered cutting funding to the students’ association and clubs if they decided to proceed with an event involving Don Brash speaking on campus.

‘We should be able to have robust debate on campus with people we disagree with, including our university leaders. But to consider cutting funding to a group that disagrees with your actions is just foul play,’ says National President Jonathan Gee.

‘While we do not agree with Don Brash’s views on race and many other issues, we support the right to free speech. As the critic and conscience of society, universities should be the bastions of that, not undermine it,’ says Massey University Students’ Association (MUSA) President Ngahuia Kirton.

Gee says that these tactics have stemmed from Voluntary Student Membership, where tertiary institutions’ management now hold all the cards.

‘Students’ associations have for too long been silenced from criticising our institutions for fear of ‘biting the hand that feeds us’. These emails from the Vice-Chancellor are the purest example of the silencing effect that Voluntary Student Membership has had on student voice.’

Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) was passed by Parliament through the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill in 2011, despite strong opposition. Since VSM, students’ associations have had to negotiate their core funding with their tertiary institutions, as opposed to receiving levies from students directly. The revenues of students’ associations have since reduced dramatically, some by over half since 2011.

‘Two wrongs do not make a right. Threatening cuts to funding key student services in order to get what you want is not fair game. Everybody loses,’ says Jason Woodroofe, Albany Students’ Association President.

The Vice-Chancellor has also broken the trust of staff and students through assuring them that her main consideration in preventing Don Brash from speaking was security, when this has clearly not been the case. She has misled the Chair of Academic Board, who are in part the guardians of the university’s role of being society’s critic and conscience.

‘We join Massey’s students’ associations in their call for their University Council to clarify its stance on funding independent students’ associations. The Vice-Chancellor has broken the trust we have with our institutions, and we want to rebuild that.’


Massey Vice Chancellor appears to have lied over Brash ban

The controversial cancelling of a student political club event at Massey University due to the scheduled inclusion of Don Brash kicked up a lot of discussion about Brash’s views (strongly criticised by some), about free speech, and about free speech at universities.

The issue has been raised again by David Farrar, who through emails obtained through the Official Information Act shows that Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas was not being truthful to the public or to the Massey academic board in her explanations for the cancellation of the event.

She had explained on Newstalk ZB (8 August)

Massey University defends barring Don Brash

Larry Williams: What were the reasons for cancelling?

Jan Thomas: The reason we cancelled was because the students who had booked the venue and had agreed to terms of use had come to us and identified their concerns around their ability to maintain security at the event, and so on the basis of that we took another look at things and based on some things we were observing on social media I became concerned that there was a genuine threat to the safety of our staff and students and members of the public.

And so unfortunately it’s a really tough decision and I don’t like making these decisions but based on the safety of our community I chose to cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Was this more about your personal views though, you don’t like Dr Brash?

Jan Thomas: Ah, I made the decision on the basis of the safety of our staff. In fact the venue had been booked um for some time and the students association, the politics society, had done a terrific job of setting up a programme of speakers who were going to be discussing their particular perspectives on politics. That of course is the mandate of the student association and I supported that and that had all gone through the normal processes.

So he would have spoken along with other current and future leaders of ah the National Party in a sequence of talks past current and future, ah and ah I think that was, these are precisely the sorts of things that should and do happen on university campuses, and it wasn’t until we became aware of ah concerns around security ah that I made a really difficult decision to cancel the event.

But the emails show that Thomas wanted the event cancelled because of what she described as Brash’s racist views, which she described a month prior to the above ‘explanation’ as “I do not want a te tiriti university to be seen to be enoorsing racist behaviours” (9 July):

After a series of emails on 13 July what Farrar describes as the “smoking bullet”:

Farrar comments:

Here the VC says allow Brash to speak will clash with the te Tiriti led ambition and affect their Maori colleagues. She asks if funding can be used to pressure the student associations. And she concludes:

She says she wants the event stopped, and “if it proves impossible” suggests modifying conditions of use of facilities and student funding to make it easier to stop similar events in the future.

Farrar:

There is no doubt that Massey University is lying and treating us as fools when they now try and claim it was purely about security. They have become a university without integrity and without free speech.

And here she talks about refusing entry:

And all this is before any security issues were raised.

The OIA release shows that Massey University has leadership that is hostile to free speech and believes that anyone who has a view different to them on the Treaty of Waitangi has no place at Massey University.

Not only did Thomas mislead the public over this, she appears to have lied to the Massey academic board. Farrar says that “This is what the academic board chair e-mailed colleagues”:

Distinguished Professor Sally Morgan Chair of Academic Board Meeting with the Vice-Chancellor. In light of the public accusations that Massey University is not committed to the Principle of Free Speech, I asked to meet with the Vice-Chancellor in my capacity as Chair of Academic Board, to gain reassurances that this is not the case, and to discuss the recent controversy caused by the cancellation of the Don Brash lecture which was to be hosted by the Students Political Club. I did this because I wanted to fully understand the facts of the case and what, if any, impact it might have on the business of the Board. I was not finding the public debate and the emotional speculation on social media and in the press very helpful and needed to know more before I could happily form an opinion.

The Vice-Chancellor agreed to meet me and to answer my questions. She began by assuring me that she was committed to free speech and the notion of the University as well-informed and scholarly, Conscience and Critic of Society.

I asked the Vice-Chancellor how long she had been aware of Dr Brash’s proposed lecture before she took the decision to cancel the lease of the room to the students. She told me that she had been aware of the event for many weeks and had been invited to attend. The students had also informed her that their planned programme of talks would include politicians from all New Zealand’s major political parties.

My understanding from what Professor Thomas told me, is that she had not considered cancelling the event at any point during that period, because she had no pressing reason to do so. She did not deny that she does not agree with Dr Brash’s views, but she pointed out that she had not at any stage banned him from campus nor insisted that the students disinvite him.

Professor Thomas told me that the situation changed when she was shown a thread on social media where there was a discussion of a plan to violently disrupt the talk, making mention of bringing a gun.

There certainly seems to be some discrepancies in what Thomas said publicly and what she discussed with university staff, and what she told the academic board.

What is said in the emails is certainly different to her explanation to Newstalk ZB.

More detail at Kiwiblog: Massey lying over cancellation of Brash speech

Free speech and ‘deplatforming’

‘Deplatforming’ (also known as ‘no platform’)has become a prominent issue in relation to free speech. Definitions.net: “Canceling or disinviting someone to speak at an event” (but ‘no platform’ may also be a means of trying to stop controversial speakers have platforms generally).

Deplatforming is a new term to me, that came up in recent controversies over opposition to allowing Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern speak first at Auckland Council owned venues, and then more generally – the Power Station cancelled an event the afternoon before the duo were due to speak there.

And it also arose when Massey University cancelled a student political event that Don Brash was scheduled to speak at.

It is a big issue in the US:  Attitudes to free speech are changing, and Steve Bannon has something to do with it

Two widely read magazines made two different decisions about Steve Bannon this week. The New Yorker on Monday announced it was disinviting Bannon as a speaker at its October festival, while the London-based Economist on Tuesday defended its decision to keep him on at its own event this month.

The magazines received a torrent of criticism that the media is giving a megaphone to a dangerous white nationalist of waning relevance.

The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, went the other way, saying that while he had hoped for “a rigorous interview” onstage with Bannon to challenge his views, he conceded there were better ways to achieve that scrutiny than by giving Bannon yet another platform.

The growing number of these “disinvitations” — many of them at universities in both the US and UK — shows a shift in attitudes to free speech, and even a desire to move its goalposts.

It may not be taking hold in New Zealand after widespread criticism of the Massey banning of Brash. A visit this week by Nigel Farage attracted only minor protests (and scant interest over what he said), and Chelsea Manning was granted a visa to come and speak here despite her criminal record.

What some people pointed out to the New Yorker about Bannon was that his presence at the festival was not just a matter of the freedom to express one’s views. It was also about his track record in distributing false information through Breitbart, the website he co-founded in 2007.

Breitbart has run stories that support climate change denial, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it’s real. It has also run stories alleging the Obama administration was supporting al Qaeda in Iraq, an accusation that has no basis in fact.

It gets quite contentious when known perpetrators of ‘fake news’ are involved. Major online platforms have recently restricted Alex Jones from using their platforms. Facebook, Twitter and others have enormous power over speech and have been under pressure to clamp down on being exploited by activists deliberately spreading false news, especially where foreign countries try to influence elections.

But what if Donald Trump had the power to shut down platforms that he claims spread fake news about him?

A claim of ‘fake news’ does not mean the news is fake, with people like Trump it is synonymous with  ‘news I don’t like’, or critical commentary.

Attitudes to free speech depend on age. Forty percent of millennials in the US — where free speech is enshrined in its constitution — think the government should be able to prevent people from saying things that offend minority groups, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. That drops to 27% among generation X respondents, 24% among baby boomers and just 12% for “silent generation Americans,” aged 73 to 90.

It is quite alarming to see as many as 40% of a younger age group want their government to prevent speech that they think is (or may be) offensive to someone. Is that a sign of where ‘free speech’ is going to go?

Inciting hatred with speech is illegal in some parts of the world, and privacy can also place limitations on what you say.

Some millennials say they want to see these restrictions widen. This desire is most visible in the growing number of “no-platforming” cases at universities, where people are denied invitations to speak, or their invitations are rescinded.

In the UK, radical feminists with views that students consider transphobic have been no-platformed.

Free speech versus ‘safe spaces’

Shakira Martin, president of the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), said students valued free speech, but stressed that freedom must be balanced with creating safe spaces, particularly for minority groups.

The problem with free speech as we know it is that the playing field is uneven, she said, with some groups given the opportunity to shout louder than others.

“So many of the misunderstood and maligned practices that students have deployed to readdress that balance, such as safe space, are actually about extending free speech to those groups whose voices may not have been traditionally heard,” she told CNN.

‘Safe spaces’ is a very contentious thing. There are a real risk that rules enforcing ‘non-offensive speech’ will neuter free speech.

This is especially a problem in politics, where opponents can claim offence to try to shut down views they are ‘offended’ by – which in reality is often just political ideas and policies they disagree with.

Evening the free speech playing field is also highly contentious. Who gets to decide what is even? How can you rule on evenness before the event, before someone has spoken?

Brash was effectively banned by Massey based on anticipation of what he might say. Some claimed he had had ample speech platforms in the past, had offended some people some of the time, so should be deplatformed.

I have seen people online claiming things like white males should shut up because white males had dominated power and speech in the past and now it was the turn for other groups to have the power and the platforms.

Free speech won’t be balanced by shutting up some groups, by censoring some. It will be enhanced by encouraging and enabling a wider range of speakers and views and politics.

You can’t improve inclusiveness through exclusive rules and pressures.

The debate leaves universities with a difficult balancing act. The UK’s Department of Education is working on creating a clearer set of rules for universities to follow.

In May, Minister for Higher Education Sam Gyimah described the restrictions of free speech at universities as “chilling.” His predecessor, Jo Johnson, said universities should be fined for banning speakers.

Fining universities who don’t comply with no-ban rules sounds like a silly idea to me. Apart from it being a bad approach it would be to easily open to abuse.

Free speech in the digital age

It may not be surprising that a generation that grew up with the internet and social media has different ideas on free speech.

Social media was once hailed as the savior of free speech, offering a platform for marginalized voices. That’s still true, but with it has come more hate speech.

The Internet has enabled as many problems as solutions for free speech.

Laws around the world have not kept up with this major change in the way we communicate, according to Monica Horten, an expert on internet governance policy. At the heart of the problem is scale.

“What you’ve got now are millions of pieces of content going up online by individual people, and that immediately alters the scale of the problem, because the percentage of the content seen as problematic is going to be higher,” Horten told CNN.

After years of backlash from their own users, social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are now regulating problematic content, such as fake news. But that poses its own set of problems, Horten said.

“The whole question of whether private actors should be able to make these kinds of decisions — governments are asking private companies that run these platforms to make decisions about which content should be removed — they are acting as censors and not always within the law.”

Private companies controlling online speech have enormous power of enabling speech, restricting it and censoring it.

Kate O’Regan, director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford, agreed that the world was still grappling with how to legislate online content, but said she was concerned at the changing attitudes to free speech.

“I understand people who don’t want to share a platform (with Steve Bannon) — they have the right to make those decisions. But at the end of the day we have to debate the ideas and let that conversation take place,” she said.

“I do think democracy by definition are places where we must allow deep-seated disagreements to be aired and they should be done in a civil manner.”

That highlights some major problems that aren’t easily resolved.

I have found from experience on a range of online forums, especially in the seven years I have been running Your NZ, that the only way of allowing deep-seated disagreements to be aired (that is one of the primary aims of Your NZ) in a civil manner is by human intervention, and that is an ongoing challenge as spats and attacks keep erupting.

I think I have proven that it can be sort of be managed ok, on a tiny scale.

I don’t know how this can be done effectively on a large scale let alone a world wide web scale. Too few people have the inclination or balance, and far too many people want to deliberately upset the balance and upset opponents.

What is ‘free speech’ in a New Zealand context?

There has been a lot spoken and written about free speech in New Zealand lately, sparked by the visit of Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. Most people seemed to see them as extreme-ish agenda driven attention and money seekers,  with many people supporting their right to speak here but not agreeing with what they said or did much.

The cancellation of a political event at Massey University this week that as going to feature Don Brash was widely (not quite universally) condemned. Brash got far more publicity over that and a at a debate at Auckland University on Thursday than he would otherwise have got.

But what is free speech in New Zealand?

Lizzie Marvelly has a go at explaining (it’s a column worth reading, one of her better ones in a very mixed portfolio) in Why can’t I escape Don Brash?

What has become overwhelmingly clear in the midst of the tide of hysteria and hyperbole is that there are many people who don’t really grasp the true meaning of free speech. Having the freedom of speech just means (with a few exceptions, such as in matters of national security and hate speech) that the state doesn’t have the right to prevent citizens from expressing themselves or punishing them if they do. It can’t throw people in jail for speaking out against the Government, or to prevent them from speaking out.

Free speech doesn’t mean everyone has the right to speak in whatever venue they please. It doesn’t mean that people who disagree with a speaker can’t argue or protest. It doesn’t mean that people can say vile, violent and inflammatory things without fear of prosecution. As the person who wrote to Massey’s Vice Chancellor alluded to, just because we have the right to free speech, it doesn’t mean we won’t face consequences for what we say.

This doesn’t address the issue of a politician like Phil Goff trying to dictate whose views could be expressed at an Auckland Council owned venue. Nor does it address the considerable concerns over Jan Thomas deciding which ex-politicians should be effectively banned from speaking at a Massey University student political society event. But those issue shave been well covered already.

Dr Oliver Hartwich (NZ Initiative): Freely speaking

Since New Zealand just had to discuss the meaning of free speech, perhaps it is worth defining what free speech is. And what it is not.

Absent a written constitution, let us turn to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for guidance. It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As strong as this sounds, this provision only confers an individual right to hold and express opinions. It compels no one else to share, promote or publish them. And this, more than anything else, is the fundamental misunderstanding in our recent debates.

Again this doesn’t address Goff’s apparent involvement in deciding who could use a venue based on what he thought they might say.

Even Massey University’s banning of Don Brash’s speech is, strictly speaking, not a case of restricting free speech. Within hours of being uninvited, Dr Brash’s manuscript was published on the Herald’s website, and he could explain himself on radio and TV. That is hardly a case of effective censorship. And universities, too, can lawfully determine how their resources are used.

The real scandal of banning Dr Brash lies elsewhere. By uninviting Dr Brash, Massey University has not been true to its own values. Massey’s Charter commits it to promoting “free and rational inquiry”. That is what the very idea of the university is all about.

If universities cannot tolerate dissent and the free exchange of heterodox views, they cease to be universities. It would make them indoctrination camps.

In short: Freedom of speech is important. Not every restriction of expression is objectionable. And universities must remain true to ideals of academic inquiry.

Everyone is free to speak to themselves by their own means. Beyond that there is no guarantee others will listen or will provide a means to speak.

But there is a need for politicians and universities to be impartial and unobstructive when making decisions on who can speak in their domains, and to do that they need to risk erring towards allowing speech. They cannot know what will be said in advance of an event.

here at Your NZ free speech is very important, but not absolute. I need to make decisions to protect this site from legal actions, and I also choose to protect speakers here and targets of opinions from unnecessary abuse and attacks. It’s imperfect but well-intentioned for the good of both speech in general but also of the community here.

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.

Brash up-platformed in university debate tonight

Massey University received almost universal criticism and derision after they cancelled a political society meeting that Don Brash was scheduled to speak at. It was widely seen as an attack on free speech, with some saying it was proof of a slippery slope for free speech.

Brash got far more publicity than he would received at Massey, and he gets a chance to be in the spotlight at Auckland University tonight. He was booked to participate in a debate long before the Molynuex & Southern and Massey furores arose.

Coincidentally and ironically, tonight’s debate is on “Has PC culture gone too far to the point of limiting freedom of speech?”

Freedom of Speech Public Debate

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Freedom of speech is a value which is fundamental to New Zealand society. But at what point should we prevent speech which is offensive, bigoted, hurtful or that we disagree with? Has PC culture gone too far to the point where it is limiting freedom of speech?

The University of Auckland Debating Society is proud to present the inaugural Think Big Debate – a debate series which will explore the big issues in New Zealand Society. The inaugural Think Big Debate is going to examine whether PC culture has gone too far and is limiting freedom of speech.

Don Brash (of the Free Speech coalition) and Elliot Ikilei (Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party) will affirm the motion and Fran O’Sullivan (Head of Business at the New Zealand Herald) and Simon Wilson (Senior Writer at the New Zealand Herald) will negate the motion.

They will each be joined by two of the university’s top debaters. With Freedom of Speech in the headlines both in New Zealand and overseas you won’t want to miss this event.

Absolutely everyone is welcome at this public debate. Check out the Facebook event for more information.

 

‘De-platformed’ is a new word for me. In this case it has backfired and turned into upping Brash’s platform.

Stuff: Don Brash free speech debate in Auckland booms on back of Massey’s ban

Massey University’s ban on Don Brash making a speech on its Palmerston North campus has proved a boon for rival Auckland University.

Double the number of people expected to attend Brash’s Auckland appearance have now registered since Massey axed Brash and ignited another free speech debate.

The controversy has been a marketing gift for the otherwise low key Auckland function organised by the university’s debate society.

There is planned protest: Students and Staff to protest Don Brash speaking at University of Auckland

A New University has organised a public protest opposing the inclusion of Don Brash in a University of Auckland Debating Society event to be held on campus on Thursday 9th August at 6.00pm in the Owen G Glenn building.

“Brash’s haste to come to the defense of far-right ideologues Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux shows his commitment to the right to spread hate speech with no consideration of the consequences for those targeted by racial abuse and discrimination.

“Universities are legislatively bound to act as the ‘critic and conscience of society’. Condemning any platform for hate speech is a rare opportunity for the University community to fulfil this crucial role.

“The University of Auckland equity policy acknowledges the distinct status of Māori as tangata whenua and is committed to partnerships that acknowledge the principles of the Treaty. Hosting Brash directly contravenes equity principles and the protection of students and staff from discrimination.

“A New University calls on University of Auckland management to follow through on its equity policy and strategic plan emphasis on promoting Māori presence and participation in all aspects of University life.

“A New University joins the struggle of those at Massey University in refusing to accommodate hatred, bigotry and racism in their institutions. Universities must uphold the principles of Te Tiriti and ensure the safety of students and staff on campus.

There does not seem to be an obvious Maori participant in the debate, but that may be addressed froom four of “the university’s top debaters” who are as yet unnamed.

UPDATE:

Up-platformed and live.

Lizzie Marvelly supports Brash ban

Lizzie Marvelly has a bigger platform to speak than most – she is a regular columnist at NZ Herald, and she has her own blog Villainesse.

She also attracts attention on Twitter, as she did yesterday when she one of a small minority who support the banning of Don Brash from speaking at Massey University.

No, Brash hasn’t been silenced, he has been given a megaphone after being banned. That’s what attacks on free speech can do – generate far more speech than they try to suppress.

Marvelly engaged after some responses:

@MatthewHootonNZ: The young students who invited him may have. They were perhaps as young as 3 when he became leader of the opposition.

@LizzieMarvelly: As members of a university politics society it’s very likely they’ve heard him rabbiting on and on about the same tired old stuff, if not in real time (and that’s possible – bafflingly, he has continued to rabbit on outside of politics, and to be given airtime) then in old clips.

@JarrodGilbertNZ: But they invited him.

@LizzieMarvelly: Ah. That’s unfortunate. Can’t anyone find a new mouthpiece for anti-te reo, anti-Māori rhetoric?

It looks like Marvelly jumped into this issue without knowing anything about what Brash was invited to talk about, which was nothing to do with te reo or Maori specific issues.

@LizzieMarvelly:  Many more shocking calls are made every day to exclude or under-represent women and Māori speakers. Forgive me for not feeling outraged at Brash being deprived of one of the many platforms he enjoys.

For all Marvelly knows their may have also been women and/or Māori speakers scheduled to speak at the same students’ political society event, who will also been excluded from speaking after the event was cancelled.

Regardless, it seems obvious that free speech is not an important principle for Marvelly.

And she isn’t alone in her attitude. It is common to see people say that some groups of people should be given more speaking rights, and that the views of others don’t matter.

Massey vice chancellor Jan Thomas tries to explain Brash ban

After controversially barred Don Brash yesterday from speaking by cancelling a student political society event at Massey University, vice Chancellor Jan Thomas tried to explain this in an interview on Newstalk ZB.

Massey University defends barring Don Brash

Larry Williams: What were the reasons for cancelling?

Jan Thomas: The reason we cancelled was because the students who had booked the venue and had agreed to terms of use had come to us and identified their concerns around their ability to maintain security at the event, and so on the basis of that we took another look at things and based on some things we were observing on social media I became concerned that there was a genuine threat to the safety of our staff and students and members of the public.

And so unfortunately it’s a really tough decision and I don’t like making these decisions but based on the safety of our community I chose to cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Was this more about your personal views though, you don’t like Dr Brash?

Jan Thomas: Ah, I made the decision on the basis of the safety of our staff. In fact the venue had been booked um for some time and the students association, the politics society, had done a terrific job of setting up a programme of speakers who were going to be discussing their particular perspectives on politics. That of course is the mandate of the student association and I supported that and that had all gone through the normal processes.

So he would have spoken along with other current and future leaders of ah the National Party in a sequence of talks past current and future, ah and ah I think that was, these are precisely the sorts of things that should and do happen on university campuses, and it wasn’t until we became aware of ah concerns around security ah that I made a really difficult decision to cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Yes but you’ve also referenced Dr Brash as a hate speaker, with respect.

Jan Thomas: Ah, I don’t think um that I have referenced that as bluntly as that. What I have said was that ah there was an event held in ah the Manawatu here on our campus, ah from ah Hobson’s Pledge ah which ah was particularly offensive for ah particularly our Maori staff, and ah that is not the sort of thing that I would like to see at a university campus. Um that wasn’t ah Dr Brash speaking, um it was around ah Hobson’s Pledge that particular time.

So those sorts of events are events ah where the discussion um moves from being one ah of talking about ah the issues and evidence based ah good rational debate where people are able to speak about um their perspectives on a whole range of different things.

Larry Williams: yes but you’re shutting that down aren’t you? Ah you know being against race based seats on a council is not akin to hate speech.

Jan Thomas: Ah no um and that is indeed a personal political perspective that I have no question, no problem with…

Larry Williams: It’s called democracy.

Jan Thomas: What I do object to is where um speech that demeans or humiliates or silences groups of people based on a common trait. Ah in other words playing the man and not the ball, ah is ah is something that we don’t accept on a university campus, that everyone should feel that they can express their views in a way that is not um going to be subject to being demeaned or humiliated.

Larry Williams: Well everybody except Don Brash.

Jan Thomas: Um ah well as I said we cancelled this event on the basis of security, ah security concerns um and ah it wouldn’t matter who was speaking. If I have concerns over the safety of our community I would consider ah cancelling events as well because I cannot put at risk ah my staff, students and ah members of the community.

Larry Williams: So who were the threats coming from, where were the threats, what were the threats?

Jan Thomas: Ah well the threats were um coming from um you know a discussion that was happening in social media channels, um and I I do want to say that um I think for universities ah we do have to be particularly careful about these things. There have been some really horrible events happening on university campuses around the world violent things, ah and I we never see that in New Zealand, ah however um I and so I’m very watchful for anything that might ah put at risk our ah safety on campus…

Larry Williams: If it’s threats and it’s violence you’re concerned about, you you you have cowered to the threats, haven’t you. What about the police? Did you call the police in?

Jan Thomas: Um well our um staff are in contact with the police. That’s true. And I guess that was part of the difficult decision, do you completely um ah ah a-a-ah you know ramp up ah significant ah security or do you not. And these are some of the things that we thought about  and talked about and I made the decision that I would cancel the event.

Larry Williams: Yes but it’s hard to come to the conclusion that you cancelled this on security grounds, I mean you also referenced Brash’s support for the Canadians Southern and Molyneux, ah all his support was that he supports free speech along with a raft of other academics both right and left. He didn’t support their views, he supports free speech.

Jan Thomas: Sure.

Larry Williams: But you referenced that as well.

Jan Thomas: Um[or ‘and’]

Larry Williams: You referenced the Canadians as well.

Jan Thomas: Mhm.

Larry Williams: Meaning that the possibility here is the real reason for cancelling this is because you don’t like Dr Brash and what he stands for, what he says.

Jan Thomas: Well we cancelled the event on the basis of our concerns for security. I guess um ah ah um we also have a view that ah hate speech is not acceptable on campus, and I think what you’re doing here is linking those two things quite quite clearly, and um ah you know I do stand by my ah perspectives that hate speech is not welcome on campus, um, and neither is ah ah when there are concerns about security of our community. I will um act in the best interests of our broader community.

Larry Williams: Well again who said Dr Brash was going to be involved in hate speech, where I mean where are the examples of the hate speech?

Jan Thomas: Ah well I I am quite sure that Dr Brash would have done what he was invited to speak on and that was his experience as his leader of the National Party, um and…

Larry Williams: Exactly.

Jan Thomas: Yeh.

Larry Williams: You see this is the university’s politics society. Brash is a former opposi…this is what you do. political views. You debate them.

Jan Thomas: I agree. And as I said, this is the mandate of the students’ politics society, entirely appropriate. And the students’ society has acted in exactly the right way, doing doing having these sorts of events ah to raise awareness of different political spectrum…

Larry Williams: Yeah I mean universities are meant to be the bastion of free speech, vice chancellor.

Jan Thomas: And we support free speech, ah but when it um it leans into hate speech where people are being ah damaged as a result of am…

Larry Williams: What do you mean damaged? I mean previously you’ve said at that um free speech is being a tool of colonialism and must be restricted. Where is the hate coming in all of this?

Jan Thomas:  …uuuum, so I I I feel we’re blurring the issues here, that there is ah we cancelled this event because of security concerns. I also am quite happy to stand behind my comments that hate speech is not welcome on campus, and the way I would consider hate speech is ah when hate speech might demean or humiliate or silence groups of people based on a common trait, whether it be sexuality or religion or race or whatever, um because ah that is essentially ah the same as bullying of a larger group of people, and we don’t tolerate  bullying in the playground do we…

Larry Williams: Yeah well ok there’s no evidence that Dr Brash was bullying anybody. I mean even the Prime Minister is saying this is an overreaction. What’s your take on that?

Jan Thomas: Ah yes and I’ve heard her say that and um that is her view but as the um vice chancellor of this university I made a decision, ah on the basis of the safety for my ah the community that ah come onto this campus, and I take that responsibility very very seriously.