Media Release: Free Speech Coalition will defend current and long held free speech rights

Mar 31, 2019

31 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Free Speech Coalition will campaign against new laws to supress traditional freedom of speech signalled by Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Constitutional lawyer, and Free Speech Coalition spokesperson, Stephen Franks says, “New Zealand already has clear laws against incitement of violence. We have a very new, uncertain, and far reaching law against digital harassment."

"We have seen little or no effort by the government to enforce the existing law in the internet era, or even to explain it. Few New Zealanders know how our existing law works to criminalise genuinely hateful attempts to incite violence and contempt. We have seen instead repeated efforts to justify the granting of fresh powers like those used overseas to allow  authorities to criminalise arguments and the expression of concern about issues where they want only one view to be expressed or heard."

"The Government and the Human Rights Commission should focus on explaining and enforcing the existing law, not disgracefully seizing on the wave of sympathy from all decent New Zealanders, to rush through new restrictions on the opinions we may debate, express and research."

"The term ‘hate speech’ is deliberately extreme. It has been designed to prejudice discussion. It exploits the decency of ordinary people. How could anyone not oppose 'hate'? But as defined legally it generally means something that could upset someone. Overseas examples often just gives authorities the ability to say it means what they want it to mean from time to time. Recently, in Britain, their version of the law was used to bring criminal charges against an elderly woman who refused to use a transgender man’s preferred designation as a woman and insisted on referring to him as a man who wanted to use women’s toilets.”

“New restrictions raise obvious questions around who gets to decide which ideas are suppressed, how many peaceful New Zealanders could see themselves targeted, and how these laws could be used in future to shut down speech for political reasons.”

“The worst aspect of this law is the ‘chilling effect’ – even speech that would pass the legal test may still go unsaid due to fear of committing this new kind of blasphemy. This has fundamental risks across society, from academic debate to internet memes.”

ENDS