‘Free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ (or intolerance of the intolerant)

The ‘free speech’ debate continues.

‘Free speech’ is not entirely free, and it is far from equal, some people have far more opportunity and power than others to be heard. How free speech should be is a contentious issue.

‘Hate speech’ is harder to define, but someone at Reddit attempted:

“Hate speech” has simply become “Things we hate hearing you say.”

What a weak, feckless, emotionally hysterical culture we’re encouraging.

A quote from Golriz Gaharaman:

“Freedom of speech, like most rights, is not absolute. It’s subject to the rights of others, to safety, freedom, equality. Our gov must balance the right of right wing hate mongers against the greater interests of public safety in NZ. Just as Aus has done in denying their visas.”

I got involved in a discussion on all this on Twitter yesterday (I usually avoid it, it’s difficult to debate well when dabbling while multi tasking). It started with this:

Marianne Elliot: I’m taking notes on who stepped up to support Renae vs who is supporting this lot.

John Hart: The Venn diagram will be two non-intersecting circles I suspect.

PG: I have spoken up for Renae and against Jones’ legal action, and also support free speech at Auckland council venues. You don’t? (I didn’t support Renae’s petition, nor do I support what Southern & Molyneux say).

Sarah Jane Parton: Did you donate to both Renae’s legal fund and Brash et al’s $50k? Are you the ∩?

PG: I’m not cool with him at all. But like many people I have serious concerns about the growing tendency to try to shut down speech people don’t agree with. Have you read this?
http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-cost-of-free-and-democratic-society_9.html

Sarah Jane Parton: WRT to the “legality”, I point you to section 61 of the Human Rights Act,

Sarah Jane Parton: And then there’s the costs of security, policing, damages, etc etc.

PG: Should street protests be banned? There are costs of security, policing and risks of damage with them.
Or a protests a valid form of free speech important to a democracy?

Marianne Elliot: The critical line in that piece is this: “It’s perhaps all too easy to proclaim the general need for tolerance and acceptance of “offence” by others when you’re in a privileged and protected social position.”

PG: As important: “But, if we are going to mark out some social groups as requiring greater protection from the effects of speech, how do we do so, and who gets to decide just who they are? And how do we stop… expanding to capture expression we might think ought to be allowed?”

Marianne Elliot: Those are not simple questions, but with a clear power and risk analysis, nor are they impossible to resolve. The point is that we need someone other than the people who have always been in charge to be leading that conversation.

PG: It’s a growing issue that should be talked about be people other than those in power like . But one of our big challenges is how we do that without being it being trashed by abuse and by polarisation.

Marianne Elliot: Or maybe the biggest challenge is that the people at least risk from hate speech are used to being in charge of our laws and in control of debates about them.

PG: Some of the biggest targets of ‘hate speech’ and abuse and threats and defamation are those most prominent in power.

Marianne Elliot: Defamation is an important legal issue & is also very different hate speech. Calling one powerful white man racist has a very different power & social impact to someone saying “blacks are collectively less intelligent”, or invoking a “quick, decisive, and brutal” white backlash.

PG: It’s different again including many non-powerful white men in general condemnation. I think there needs to be a significant shift, but care has to be taken not to take rights of some when giving them to others.

Marianne Elliot:  Maybe instead it’s time to sit back and listen to the people being harmed by this speech? To listen to their very real and reasonable fears, and resist telling them that they don’t understand what is really at stake?

PG: We should always take time to sit back and listen, but that shouldn’t silence us either. I don’t know who tells others they don’t understand. Attempts to understand should work in all directions. As Andrew said, it’s very complex.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’d like to hear ’ take on this piece.

Eddie Clark: Some differences at the edges maybe, but pretty much agree with Andrew. Anyone who tells you this is simple probably doesn’t understand it well enough.

Marianne Elliot:  It’s not simple. I haven’t heard many say that it is. What many (including me) are saying is that it is time for the people at least risk of harm from harmful speech to listen to people at most risk, and to resist telling them that they don’t understand what’s at stake.

Marianne Elliot:  There are difficult balances to be reached. But for that balance to be fair, what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance.

PG: “what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance” – by suppressing the speech of whom? You can’t easily shut up those you don’t want to hear, nor make those speak who you want to hear.

Marianne Elliot:  Oh lord. I’m not sure there’s much point continuing this conversation if you think that changing the balance of who holds power in setting and interpreting law is about suppressing speech. Over and out.

PG: Oh lord, you’ve jumped to a bit of a conclusion there. I don’t think that.

Sarah Jane Parton: If you are not the people who will be harmed by this stuff then maybe it IS time to be quiet. Goff’s call has not been met with criticism from former refugees, transfolk, or Muslims, which is noteworthy. The ethnic and gender make up of Brash’s “coalition” is also telling.

PG: Are you suggesting that only former refugees, transfolk, Muslims and you should say anything about this? If that’s the case the issue would never have been raised or discussed to any noticeable degree.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’m saying that if you use your privilege to support and amplify the voices of other privileged people whose very aim is to trample on marginalised people, maybe it’s time to be quiet.


That’s more or less how it ran – Twitter threads can get a bit convoluted.

It evolved from debating whether free speech principles overrode claims of hate speech or not, to suggesting that people ‘in privileged positions’ should be quiet and let others speak about the problems with hate speech.

I’m sure no minds were changed in the conversations, but this illustrates some of the issues around complexities of free speech versus hate speech’

It is more an issue of how much intolerance of intolerant speech should limit the freedom to speak.

A slanted Panama/trust poll

Activist group Action Station have commissioned and used a poll as a part of their campaign on tax and foreign trust issues – good on them for pushing for better tax and trust laws, but their polling and publicising are slanted.

The Herald reported on a UMR poll conducted for Action Station:

Panama Papers: Majority of Kiwis ‘concerned’ about New Zealand’s new reputation

Pressure over the Panama Papers on the Government is rising after a poll showed a majority of New Zealanders were concerned about the country’s new reputation as a tax haven.

A poll by UMR Research, conducted for activist group ActionStation, showed 57 per cent of respondents were “concerned” about New Zealand being a tax haven and the misuse of our foreign trust regime for tax evasion purposes. Just 23 per cent said they were “not concerned” about the issue.

ActionStation spokeswoman Marianne Elliot said the results of the poll spoke for themselves.

“A majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response,” Elliot said.

But the poll didn’t determine that a majority of New Zealanders thought that. Elliot has embellished the poll results with her own phrases.

Has Matt Nippert misquoted Elliot? No, he appears to have cut and pasted her words from an Action Station press release Poll shows Govt seen to be handling tax haven issue “poorly” apart from removing the first part:

ActionStation spokesperson Marianne Elliott says: “The polling shows that like ActionStation members, a majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response.”

Nippert also reported:

The UMR poll, of 750 people between April 14 and 18 and with a margin of error of 3.6 per cent, also asked respondents how they thought the Government had handled the fallout from the Panama Papers and whether they thought the review of foreign trusts by former PWC chairman John Shewan, was an adequate response.

Again that looks to be picked out of the press release. But there was a PDF attached that shows what was actually asked in the poll.

Using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very concerned and 5 means not concerned at all, how concerned are you about New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?

  • Concerned (1+2) 57%
  • Neutral (3+ Unsure) 20%
  • Not concerned (4+5) 23%

Elliot portrayed this as 57% versus 23% – excluding 20% stated in the poll as ‘neutral/unsure’. Being neutral could mean unconcerned.

But worse is the loading of the question. It refers to New Zealand ‘being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes’ but this is a disputed accusation and unproven.

The second question:

Now, using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very well and 5 means very poorly, how do you think the New Zealand government is dealing with the problem of New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?

  • Handling well (1+2) 21%
  • Neutral (3+ Unsure) 33%
  • Handling poorly (4+5) 46%

This is an even more loaded question stating that there is a problem of New Zealand  being a tax haven and is used for tax evasion purposes.

The third question:

As you may be aware the government has appointed John Shewan, former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers, to review New Zealand’s foreign trusts laws. Do you think that this is an adequate response to the foreign trusts issue or do you think a full public independent enquiry is needed?

  • An adequate response 31%
  • A full public independent inquiry is needed 52%
  • Neither/unsure 17%

As well as this question implying that John Shewan’s inquiry may not be be full or independent it (Action Station) chooses to describe Shewan as “former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers”.

They chose not to describe Shewan as:

  • one of the “leading tax practitioners” at PWC over 28 years,
  • nor that after that he was “an adjunct professor of accountancy at Victoria University” since then,
  • nor that he “has been appointed by Labour and National-led governments to official bodies looking into tax”,
  • nor that he served an appointment to the Tax education Office for 9 years,
  • nor that he was part of the Tax Working Group that advised the Government in 2009,
  • nor that he is “an established commentator on tax and policy matters,
  • nor that he has been involved also in a number of high-profile tax cases”.

Source Radio NZ: Who is John Shewan?

Action Station asked the questions they wanted to, got the results that they wanted,  Elliot embellished the results with her own phrases, and Nippert seems to have simply quoted her press release.

Before having this poll done Action Station had already decided their stance – see New Zealand is a Tax Haven. Prime Minister, this needs to change.

All this media attention has created an opportunity for change by exposing New Zealand’s role in endorsing international tax dodging. We need to move quickly to seize this opportunity and call for real change, making sure the message that our trust laws need to be reformed is at the centre of the debate.

So sign the petition now calling for our government to close the loopholes that allow the world’s rich to escape paying their fair share in tax by using foreign trusts in New Zealand. We do not want New Zealand to be a tax haven for the world’s wealthiest 1%.

This is how Action Station describes themselves:

ActionStation is here to help defend our common goals; a fair society, a healthy environment and accountable politics through effective online issues-based campaigning.

They should be held accountable too, in this case for using questionable poll practices and then misrepresenting the results as a part of their campaign.

I’m all for questioning whether our tax and trust laws and practices are good enough. I look forward to the result of Shewan’s inquiry.

But I think a fair society needs fair campaigning on issues, and fair use of polling in campaigning.