Trying to shut down speech a partisan overreaction

ll media should be considering how to deal with radical and provocative speech, and speech that could bolster extreme views and potentially actions.

But this (and I’ve seen similar elsewhere) is an alarming overreaction.

I have also seem claims that ‘virtue signalling’ is also responsible for various things.

Politically motivated attempts to put blanket bans on speech are not helpful in the current situation.

New Zealand has been changed, Your NZ will change

The Christchurch mosque massacres have had a huge impact on New Zealand. Some of that impact is very negative, awful.

But an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders expressed horror and sadness, and sympathy to the many people directly affected by the killings.

Major events like this change countries, and can change the world. Your NZ is a very small part of all of this, but things will also change here.

As much as possible this will be positive change – from diversity we have to look at learning and making things better.

Free speech has always been important here, but it has become increasingly obvious that acceptable speech and safe speech have to be given even more weight.

I have always tried here to maximise decent behaviour and speech, and to discourage abusive, hateful and divisive speech. In the past there was one person in particular who kept returning under different identities, and kept trying to perpetuate some awful things cherry picked from some awful websites around the world.

This person has long gone from here, but even yesterday at the height of the shock and horror of the Christchurch killings there were still attempts to victim blame and to promote divisive ‘cultural superiority’ (a narrow brand of white culture). This was very disappointing to see.

The Australian-born suspect who shot dead dozens of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, has published a manifesto citing US President Donald Trump and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011.

The 74-page dossier, which has been described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a “work of hate”, praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

The 28-year-old, who is now in police custody, also claimed that he had “brief contact” with Breivik and had received a “blessing” for his actions from the mass murderer’s acquaintances.

The dossier stated objections to immigration and multiculturalism, and decries the “decaying” culture of the white, European Western world.


RNZ – Mosque shootings: Offender ‘a very clear white supremacist’

Security analyst Paul Buchanan said he had seen the manifesto of the alleged Christchurch shooter and his presence on right-wing platforms online.

He is a very clear white supremacist who has been planning this for two years,” he said.

“This is about as bad as it can get because it shows we don’t live in a benign environment … we’ve been affected with the virus of extremism.

“The thing is it came from white supremacists and not the Islamic community, [they were] the target today.”

There are many examples of Islamic extremism overseas, perpetuated by a small minority of Muslims. Fortunately we have had very little of this in New Zealand. The biggest dangers here are from our own violent culture problems, and from extreme right wing promoters of hate, intolerance and division.

“Let’s be very clear, Christchurch has a very active white supremacist community. A community that has attacked refugees and people of colour on multiple occasions over the last 20 years. This is the worst of them.”

There will be a lot more attention given to the ‘white supremacist community” in New Zealand.

And I’m going to give this more effort and attention here at Your NZ, because some aspects of this obviously persist here, albeit on a relatively minor scale and to a relatively degree.

So I’m going to do my small bit and promote positive change out of a very nasty negative day in New Zealand history.

This will mean challenging and preventing hate speech and division more, and putting more of a priority on safe acceptable speech. That this may reduce the ‘free speech’ of some is a small price to pay for making New Zealand a better place to live.

Jacinda Ardern said yesterday:

We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate.

We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism.

We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.

Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who needs it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.

We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy.

And secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this.

You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.

Here at Your NZ I will do my bit in condemning and rejecting hateful and divisive speech – this would include Muslims who try to perpetuate violence and hate (but we have never had a problem with that).  And it includes those who try to promote any sort of white cultural superiority, and who abuse and attack other cultures, religions, nationalities or groups.

For free speech to prevail hate speech must be condemned and contained.




Action Station report on hate speech, versus free speech

It is actually working a lot, but often not how people want it to work. Can we do much about it? or do we just have to go with how things evolve, both good and bad?

Action Station has just released  The People’s Report on Online Hate, Harassment and Abuse.

It is not ‘the people’, it is ‘some people’ who have done the report. Good on them, but they should not claim to speak for ‘the people’.

For decades, the internet has been hailed as a groundbreaking interactive marketplace of ideas, where anyone with access to data and a device can set up a stall.

Online tools have made it possible to communicate easily with friends and whānau around the world, sell and purchase goods and services, enrol to vote, raise billions for charitable causes or start-up businesses, and even hail a ride or meal to your front door.

The internet has helped give people who have historically been locked out of democracy by discrimination or poverty a way to voice the needs of their communities and organise at scale.

Over the past four years, ActionStation members have used digital tools and platforms to connect and collaborate with hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders who share their vision and values to engage powerfully in our democracy.

In the 21st century, social media has become the new public square.

The downside to this unparalleled information exchange and connectedness is that the internet also provides a powerful and relatively cheap way for groups and individuals to spread hate, fear, abuse and mis/dis/mal-information across time and space, and without transparency.

The term ‘fake news’ has been widely used to refer to a range of different kinds of false and harmful information.

While ActionStation has been at the forefront of exploring and facilitating digitally-enhanced democratic participation in New Zealand, we have also been exposed to these downsides.

It is that exposure that has prompted this report.

In 2015, the National-led government passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA). It states that a digital communication should not:

“…denigrate a person’s colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.”

In 2019 we ask: has the Act worked? Is the internet free from prejudice and harm? Do people feel safe to participate freely in conversations online? Or is there more work to do?

They say their findings show:

Why is it worse for people from some groups?

The Harmful Digital Communications Act (2015) is a powerful piece of legislation that was enacted to address the issue of online abuse. However it is not sufficient to address every issue of online hate, harassment and abuse.

The law (while broad) is designed for only a limited number of situations where online harm occurs. Specifically, it appears to work well in many cases of one-to-one abuse, where an individual who is being abused can contact Netsafe and identify the abuser.

There have however been instances, some high profile, where seemingly clear cut cases of abuse and harassment are deemed to not breach the act,such as when a Facebook user commented that writer Lizzie Marvelly should try “bungy jumping without the cord”.

The tools of the HDCA appear unsatisfactory in other cases of serious abuse online, such as when an organised group (often using ‘shill’ accounts and fake identities) are targeting an individual. There are also cases where hate is being directed at a group of people, but not necessarily targeted at an individual who can lay a complaint, where there is still a considerable harmful ‘bystander’ effect.

In New Zealand, the Human Rights Act currently includes provisions that cover both civil and criminal liability for the incitement of racial disharmony. However, the threshold is extremely high and there is a profound scarcity of successful racial disharmony claims to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Racial disharmony provisions only apply to instances where hostility is stirred up amongst people other than those who are the subject of the hate. The expression of hatred in and of itself (or the effect of that hatred on the person or group it is directed towards) is not sufficient for the law to apply. The hate speech provisions in the Human Rights Act also apply only to colour, race, or ethnic or national origins and not religion. ‘Hate speech’ against religion, or even religious people, is not unlawful.

Any laws against hate speech and harassment should be generic and protect anyone who is targeted.

One of the most significant themes to emerge in this research was the need to attend not just to individualised concerns (e.g. individual rights and privacy) but also to collective dynamics and wellbeing. Therefore any policies that are developed to protect people online and ensure their ability to participate freely and safely online need to have at their centre indigenous and collectivist thinking, especially as Māori have historically (and presently) been among those who are most targeted by hateful speech.

Māori digital rights advocate Karaitiana Taiuru says that two Māori values in particular could help support those who build the technology that permeates so much of our lives to build tools for a safer, better internet. Manaakitanga (How can we build tools that encourage users to show each other care and compassion and work to uplift each other?) and Kaitiakitanga (How can we build tools where all users become the guardians of the experience and data in a highly trusted, inclusive, and protected way?).

I’m not sure why ‘indigenous thinking and values’ in particular should provide the solutions. That’s ironic given their support of diversity. Surely all thinking and values should be considered.

After that their report stops. But back to the start they have some action – Sign the Petition – but as of now the link to that doesn’t work, but another link gets to it:

The time has come for urgent action to address the significant threats online hate, harassment and abuse is causing to New Zealanders.

We are asking Justice Minister Andrew Little to implement our recommendations and work with the online platforms to ensure our online spaces  are safe for everyone.

If the internet is the new public square, it is imperative that lawmakers ensure the ability of all New Zealanders to access reliable and credible information about issues of public importance, and the ability of everyone in this country to participate safely in public conversations about those issues.

Add your name to the petition to show your support and help us fight for change.

Proposed solutions:

If the internet is the new public square, it is imperative that lawmakers ensure the ability of all New Zealanders to access reliable and credible information about issues of public importance, and the ability of everyone in this country to participate safely in public conversations about those issues.

Based on our analysis, we are making four recommendations to the New Zealand government:

Remove: Ensure platforms are active in removing harmful content quickly. An investigation into the most effective method to do this would be required, but the responsibility should be placed on the platform, not the users.

Reduce: Limit the reach of harmful content. Neither the platforms nor the users who create hateful and harmful content should benefit from algorithms that promote divisive and polarising messages.

Review: The New Zealand government needs to review our hate speech laws, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Harassment Act and the Human Rights Act to ensure they are fit for purpose in protecting people online in the 21st century.

Recalibrate: One of the most significant themes to emerge in this research was the need to attend not just to individualised concerns (eg individual rights and privacy) but also to collective dynamics and wellbeing. Any policies that are developed to protect people online need to have indigenous and collectivist thinking at their centre. They should also ensure that all internet safety / hate speech agencies funded by the Crown reflect the increasing diversity of our country.

They won’t solve all of the problems with the internet, or even all the ones described in our report. But it would be a start.

More is explained at The Spinoff:  The internet is the new public square. And it’s flowing with raw sewage by Leroy Beckett, the Open Democracy campaigner at ActionStation

Speech and behaviour online are issues that certainly need to be considered, but far more widely than by Action Station.

Free speech is a fundamental part of an open democratic society. Protections which limit free speech need to be carefully considered.







Nonsense to suggest Brash speaks on behalf of Pākehā

@MorganGodfery: “pākehā should stop letting don brash try to speak on their behalf”

Don Brash obviously speaks for himself. He may speak for Hobson’s Choice, at times at least. But it’s ridiculous to suggest that he speaks on behalf of ‘Pākehā’.  As a number of people on Twitter pointed out in response to Godfery.

I could agree with some things he has said and says, but I also disagree with things he has said.

I see myself as Pākehā but he certainly doesn’t speak on my behalf. He never has. I opposed him when he lead National and specifically voted against National getting into Government when he was their leader.

And it’s even more ridiculous to suggest that Pākehā should stop letting Brash try to speak at all. But Godfery reiterated this nonsense.

This seems to be increasingly common from younger people – demanding that people they don’t like be shut down or shut up.

It shows an alarming lack of awareness of the importance of free speech in a democratic society.

But it’s not just younger people.

Rules on blog commenting

Each comment should:

  • be on the topic of the post
  • add information, a point of view or a contribution of some substance and
  • be respectful and do no harm to others.

Commenting here is a privilege, not a right. Comments can and will be deleted without warning. Depending on your history a comment can earn you a short term or permanent ban without warning.

If you want to comment here please read the rules and ensure that you are adding value to the blog.

I have observed the following issues over the holiday period.

  • Short ‘empty’ or ‘zero-calorie’ comments, such as ‘I agree’ or ‘Me too’.
  • Commenters who are captured by a single issue and that is all they seem to comment about.
  • Trolls visiting to stir up trouble

As a commenter your job is to add value to the blog.

How do you do that?

You do it by…

  • Sticking to the topic of the post
  • By sharing your knowledge or opinion of the topic with other readers.
  • By being respectful of the writers, the blog owner, the blog itself and other commenters and readers.
  • By leaving it out if you are unsure of whether or not your wording will upset the moderators.
  • By not getting upset and expressing anger on the blog because your comment was not immediately published but was held up in automatic moderation.

It should be obvious that this is from another blog, one that claims to champion free speech but with a reputation for heavy handed moderation and banning.

Where the ‘job’ of commenters is to ‘add value’ to the blog, to the brand, to the agendas being promoted, or otherwise you risk getting the arse card.

With this approach to moderating it is impossible to know how manipulated comments are in support of ‘adding value’. I think we just have to assume that commenting freely at Whale Oil is unlikely to be happening.

One funny thing – ‘zero-calorie’ comments like ‘I agree’ or ‘Me too’ seem to have been common on posts promoting subscriptions, meat sales and donations. Agreeing and promoting the brands there is ok, going against the manipulated message is what seems to be verboten.

Whale Oil has been significantly devalued as a political blog because of it’s ‘value added’ censorship. There is no way of knowing how jacked up comments are in support of their agendas.

That’s their choice of course.  And it’s my choice to laugh when they claim to be some sort of protector of free speech.

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.’