Freedom to speak versus safe to speak

‘Free speech’ is an ideal in a free and open, democratic society. But it can be a tricky thing. Some see free speech as a freedom to attack and abuse. Others want it to be a protection to speak without being attacked or abused. Both of these concepts can be abused.

Simon Wilson (NZH): The free speech debate with Don Brash (regurgitated from August).

“Free speech” isn’t so easy. In Athens, in the cradle of democracy, parrhesia meant the licence to say whatever you like, when, how and to whom. But there was another word, isegoria, which meant the equal right of citizens to participate in public debate in the democratic assembly. Both translate as freedom of speech.

When our new friend, the Canadian narcissist Lauren Southern, says “free speech”, she means parrhesia: a licence to say what you want. She is opposed to isegoria, because she is opposed to citizens, in general, having the rights you and I want for ourselves. That she wants for herself.

But for those who would like a break from the abuse, the threats, and oppression that come with unbridled parrhesia, there is isegoria. Ensuring everyone feels safe to speak.

There’s value in this. People who were previously silenced can be heard. Society becomes inclusive, not exclusive. We grow as a civilisation, not through constant reinforcing of the values of an elite – those who dominate the discourse already – but with an interchange of ideas and values among everyone.

In general it’s better of forums for speech are free of abuse and shouting others down and out. The more civil the debate, the more inclusive it will be for a wide range of views.

But claiming a need for ‘safety’ in order to speak can be misused and abused – it can be used (and is used) to try to shut down different opinions and criticisms that can be essential parts of speech.

Free speech does not and should not enforce  sanitised discussions where no feelings are at risk of being hurt.

In this country, let’s agree: when we’re talking free speech, we’re not talking vile, like Alex Jones at InfoWars saying parents of Sandy Hook massacre victims are fake. We’re not talking dangerous, like incitements to violence or shouting fire in a cinema. And we’re not talking defamatory. We proscribe all those without fearing an end to free speech.

But, while we’re on definitions, why are the brave heroes of the free-speech campaign here so selective? Did you know some of them want RNZ to stop using te reo?

Te reo at RNZ is another tricky thing. General use of te reo can be a good thing – but by being inclusive of those who want more use of Maori language, it can exclude those who don’t understand te reo.

I don’t particularly care about use of te reo on RNZ, but I find it distracting. I listen to RNZ to hear about news and current affairs, and I don’t want to hear some long winded spiel about a reporter after they have reported, whether I can understand the spiel or not.

I wonder if te reo is a requirement for RNZ reporters, or optional. Some are more long winded than others.

What about the free-speech rights of Nicky Hager, when the police illegally went after him for the publication of his book Dirty Politics? Where was the Free Speech Coalition then?

The Free Speech Coalition hadn’t been formed then, but the actions of the police were widely criticised and condemned.

What about the freedom to speak in private without communications being secretly recorded or hacked?

The inequality between Pākehā and Māori is, to my mind, the biggest issue facing this country. Not political correctness. That’s a distraction, the bacon you throw to Homer Simpson.

The reason we’re even debating this largely fictitious issue is because of how upset some people get when the public discourse is organised to promote isegoria. The equal right of citizens to participate.

With isegoria, ideas bubble up about inequality and fairness and perhaps a bit of reorganising of the prevailing power relations. Women want equal pay. Māori want not to be structured into educational failure. Workers want a living wage. Poor people, even those who are not poor, want a decent roof over their heads and they especially want that for their kids.

And we develop new ideas, too, about how to speak to each other so everyone can be heard.

Those who say society was better the way it used to be fear those changes are happening at their expense. Which might be true, but it doesn’t have to be.

Arguing that we’re losing the right of free speech turns attention away from real deprivation. And that enables you to insist those other hardships aren’t so important or are just misunderstood, or possibly don’t exist at all.

Ah, this is a dumb argument. I think as a society we are capable of debating different issues at the same time. Saying ‘don’t talk about other things because I want everyone focussed on what I see as most important’.

It’s form of trying to shut down discussions.

What is it they’re so scared of? It’s this. So-called “PC culture”, a culture that invites wide participation, says we should not assume the way we define and regulate society is governed by neutrality. The rules of middle-class white men may not serve the interests of everyone equally.

I’m not aware of any ‘rules of middle-class white men’. I’m aware of attempts to trump up generalised criticisms to diminish the speech of certain demographics, like ‘middle-class white men’.

Being “blind” to difference doesn’t eliminate its negative impacts, it reinforces them.

So, when it comes to defining free speech, and who gets to use it for what, we agree we have to draw some lines – around incitements to violence, for example. But the critical word is “we”.

Who’s we? Who gets to decide who can speak, and say what? Many of the objections to “political correctness”, at heart, boil down to a fear that it will be a very inclusive “we”.

What else are they scared of? A culture of inclusiveness says being “different” through accident of birth or upbringing should not open you to discrimination. It says choosing to be different should not do that either.

It’s a culture that asks for a little humility. It suggests: if you hold all the privileges, try not to lecture other people on what’s good for them.

This is targeted crap. Who holds ‘all the privileges”? No one.

Trying to shout/shut down anything perceived as ‘PC’ is a problem for free speech – but trying to shout /shut down anything perceived or alleged as ‘privileged’ is as big a problem for free speech.

This is not about the martyrdom of Don Brash. No one exercises their freedom to speak more than Don Brash. Martyrdom is a narcissist’s fantasy.

And free speech, in social democracies, isn’t on the endangered list. The world is awash with free speech. We’ve never had so much talk.

And we’ve probably never had so much talk designed to cause offence – or claims of being offended, whether justified or not.

The truth is, in the age of social media and the internet, you can’t limit it. That’s not entirely a good thing, but it’s the truth.

That doesn’t stop attempts to limit it.

My team strongly supports the motion that PC culture has gone too far to the point of limiting freedom of speech.

Indeed, this is so obviously true that I almost feel sorry for our opponents trying to argue the negative of this motion.

Let me immediately make it clear that we are not arguing that there should be absolutely no limits on free speech.

It has been long recognised that it cannot be acceptable to shout “Fire” in a crowded theatre.

It cannot be acceptable to incite violence against person or property.

Our Bill of Rights Act appears to provide a strong guarantee of freedom of speech, not unlike the protection afforded by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

But the Human Rights Act passed in 1993 contradicts that guarantee, by making it an offence to “publish or distribute … matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting”, and it appears to be that legislation which those who want to shut down free speech implicitly use.

So a large number of people have now become aware of just how far the PC culture which permeates much of our society has gone to shut down discussion on issues regarded as in some way “beyond the pale”.

These issues relate to religion, to sexual orientation, to family structure, to the rights of different racial groups, to climate change — you name it. There are some issues which are regarded as just too sensitive to discuss.

Recently, the Human Rights Commission sought to ban disharmonious comments that are “targeted at the religion and beliefs of ethnic minority communities” in New Zealand — which being interpreted means you are free to insult Christians and Christianity but not Muslims and Islam.

And that surely is political correctness gone mad. I want to be free to say, and to say loudly, that people who believe that gays should be executed, and that people who want to abandon the religion of their childhood should similarly face a death sentence, have no place in New Zealand.

At the moment, the politically correct amongst us would stop me from saying that.

Salman Rushdie once said: “There is no such thing as a right not to be offended.” And he was right.

That is an important point.

Truths can be uncomfortable for some people. Different opinions can be difficult to accept. But free speech principles mean that they should not be restricted.


Anti-climate change comments no longer allowed

Anyone arguing against climate change happening can’t comment any more – don’t worry, not here, but that seems to be what Stuff are imposing on comments there.

I think that climate change is potentially a major problem facing our planet, and facing humankind. We are having a significant impact on the planet, and most probably on the climate.

I largely disagree with those who say there is nothing to worry about. We should be concerned, and we should be doing more to reduce the human impact on the climate and on the environment.

Not all climate change effects will be negative, some areas may benefit. But overall it poses a major risk, especially considering the huge and expanding human population and the need to feed everyone.

However we should not, must not close down arguments against climate change, or for natural climate change, or against doing anything. For a start, a basic premise of science is that it be continually questioned and challenged, no matter how strong the evidence is one way or another.

And there is a lot to debate about what we should be doing in response to our impact on the planet.

So censoring one side of a debate is a major concern to me. There are whacky extremes on both sides of the arguments. Why target just one side with censorship?

From The Standard: Stuff is banning climate change deniers from articles and comments

Congratulations to Stuff.  Instead of the endless on the one hand but on the other hand reporting, where on the other hand is nothing more than incomprehensible babble from the anti science right, they have adopted this policy:

Stuff accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity. We welcome robust debate about the appropriate response to climate change, but do not intend to provide a venue for denialism or hoax advocacy. That applies equally to the stories we will publish in Quick! Save the Planet and to our moderation standards for reader comments.

The change in policy is accompanied by the announcement of a new series of stories and opinion pieces under the title of Quick! Save the planet which is described in this way:

Quick! Save the Planet – a long-term Stuff project launching today – aims to disturb our collective complacency. With insistent, inconvenient coverage, we intend to make the realities of climate change feel tangible – and unignorable.

This project accepts a statement that shouldn’t be controversial but somehow still is: climate change is real and caused by human activity.

Mature adults can disagree about the impact of climate change and how we should react. We’ll feature a wide range of views as part of this project, but we won’t include climate change “scepticism”. Including denialism wouldn’t be “balanced”; it’d be a dangerous waste of time. The experts have debunked denialism, so now we’ll move on.

There were 268 comments to the editorial written by Editor in Chief Patrick Crewdson, mostly supportive, but a few were clearly testing the boundaries.

Well done Stuff.

It is great that the tide of opinion is flowing towards accepting climate change as a reality and working out what needs to be done.  The question will be is this too little too late.

Maybe, but it is not great to see a banning of opposing views. That is bad for debate, bad for democracy, and bad for science.

This is just one of a number of very concerning developments in trying to shut down free speech that are happening right now.

Two contrasting comments early in the Standard discussion:

Robert Guyton:

Stuff’s sidelining of deniers is bold and decisive – good on them. I made this point at our regional council meeting yesterday, with any closet deniers who might be sitting around the table, in mind. There was a squirm 🙂

Chris T:

Totally and utterly disagree.

Deniers of climate change are blind, but to censor differing views that are being put foward (that aren’t breaking swearing rules etc), no matter how stupid they are, or no matter how they may differ from yours, on topics that are as contentious as this, is ridiculous.

There is another argument currently about whether media should provide ‘balance’ by giving a voice to whacky extremes, or at least whether they should provide a forum for minority views with significant slants – Bob McCoskrie comes to mind.

Media articles should be balanced towards factual and scientifically backed information. They shouldn’t give anyone a voice who wants to spout nonsense, or extreme views. Media can choose what they publish.

But when they start to censor comments – free speech – I think they are getting into worrying territory.

Chris T: Is there a master list of topics people aren’t allowed to disagree with or do we just make it up as we go along?

mickysavage: Claiming that climate science is a Soros funded attempt at world government would be a start, saying that scientists are engaged in scare mongering for money is another and claiming that ice cover is actually increasing and that temperature increases have stalled for years is a third topic.

Wayne: Your list, especially the last two, looks indistinguishable from censorship.

Banning arguments against “ice cover is actually increasing” is a particular worry.

Ice cover actually increases every winter. Obviously it decreases in summer. It always varies with seasons. Most science generally suggests that ice cover is decreasing overall, but even with climate change (warming) it can increase in some areas.

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:


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 University responds

Two responses from Massey University today in response to Massey Vice Chancellor appears to have lied over Brash ban – Jan Thomas has backed her controversial position, but there two motions of censure have been put to the Massey Academic Board.

Not surprisingly that was widely criticised as it didn’t really address her misleading or false claims.

Newstalk ZB:  Massey University board tables motions to censure Vice Chancellor

Some on Massey University’s board are moving against its Vice-Chancellor, after she stopped Don Brash from speaking at the Palmerston North campus.

Two motions have been tabled to censure Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas, after emails were revealed showing she grappled with Brash’s speaking engagement before cancelling the event over security concerns.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Chris Gallivan told Larry Williams the first motion simply relates to the cancellation.

“The second is a censure relating to the information upon which the decision was made, which is still relatively unclear. The emails that have come out have been most unfortunate.”

Gallivan says the board will vote on the motions when they meet in a month.

He says if the motions pass, it will effectively be a telling off, and won’t directly affect Thomas’s job.

Good to see the motions of censure, but not addressing it for a month seems ridiculous, this will drag it out, with a stink remaining over free speech at Massey.

And it sounds like any vote in favour of censure will be little more than mildly symbolic.

Another interview with Galliven at RNZ:

Massey vice-chancellor under fire after release of emails

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.


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. “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.

Bridges on Woodhouse and Collins on Chelsea Manning

Simon Bridges was asked whether he backed Michael Woodhouse saying as Immigration Minister he would not let Chelsea Manning come to New Zealand to speak, and whether he backed Judith Collins promoting what some have claimed is fake news.

Morning report (RNZ):

Suzi Ferguson: On Chelsea Manning, Michael Woodhouse said he would have denied the visa if he was the minister. Do you back his comments that Chelsea Manning shouldn’t have been able to come to New Zealand?

Simon Bridges: He’s got strong views on that and he’s entitled to them. What I would say is pretty simple. Actually I don’t care where you are on the spectrum, whether you’re hard left, hard right, freedom of speech matters and you should be able to do that. Al of that said, I do think there’s an issue of the immigration rules here.

Now if Chelsea Manning is allowed too come to New Zealand on the rules, good for her. She should get out there and say what wants from the rooftop.

If though what the Government has done is bent the rules for her, I would like to understand why that is, I think it’s a slightly different issue to the free speech one, but look, I feel strongly about, um and I’ll stake my claim on.

Suzi Ferguson: What about Judith Colins comments that Chelsea Manning was a traitor whose actions led to people losing their lives or having them put in danger? That’s not actually true, so do you support her using fake news again?

Simon Bridges: Well I haven’t gone through and read Chelsea Manning’s Wikipedia page, I don’t know the ins and outs of everything that she done.

My basic sense of it is though, she was convicted of very serious crimes. Now President Obama commuted those sentences, but serious matters and that’s really my point.

Bridges trying to divert and seeming to avoid answering.

Free speech is incredibly important, but you also have to have rules…

Suzi Ferguson: Do you back her using fake news though, because it’s not the first time in the last few weeks?

Simon Bridges: I would argue it’s not fake news actually if you look at what Chelsea Manning’s history is and what has happened there. Judith Collins is entitled to say what she said.

Suzi Ferguson: Ok, that’s not actually what was every proven in court.

Ferguson moved on to another topic (identifying the leaker of Bridges’ expenses) and Bridges also left it at that and moved on.

That’s some fairly tame questioning and some vague and weak responses from Bridges.



A visiting Australian MP may say something I don’t like

This sort of attack in advance, based on guesses (at best) of what someone may say in the future, is becoming common:

Don’t fucking use “Free Speech” when you mean “racist bile”

At least be fucking accurate about what she is going to be doing.

I would be concerned if news media tried to be ‘accurate’ about what someone may say in the future.

Whether she speaks or not does not change the fact she is not speaking about free speech. She is a dog-whistling anti-Islam bigot. That is what she will be speaking about.

I presume Scott Milne is simply guessing, there is no way he can know in advance.

That’s just nonsense.

I have never liked Pauline Hanson as a politician, nor what she stands for.

But I have serious concerns about trying to shut down a visit to New Zealand of an Australian Member of Parliament, based on guesses of what she could say if she came here.

Unfortunately with the abiklity to speak freely on the Internet i think we will see more of these uninformed (they can’t see into the future) attacks on potential visitors to New Zealand.