Media Release: Free Speech Coalition Disappointed to see Canterbury University’s about-face

27 September 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Canterbury University’s about-face on neutral role regarding the controversial student law revue is a disappointing display of censorship.

“Two weeks ago, Canterbury University courageously declared that ‘it does not play the role of censor’.  But now by doling out punishment to the creators of the Canterbury Law Revue, the University performs its role as censor in spades,” says Free Speech Coalition spokesperson, Jordan Williams."

Forcing community service and placing a stain on the creator’s academic record illustrates a disappointing departure from that measured and neutral.

“Canterbury’s flimsy assertion that it protects offensive speech is now only lip-service to its free speech duties. Free speech is clearly not a value on campus.”

"Sadly, Canterbury University joins Massey University as a once proud institution and bastion of free speech, thought, and student culture giving in to paternalistic censorship."

 

END


Media Release: University of Canterbury Correct In Not Interfering with Student Comedy

26 August 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Free Speech Coalition urges University of Canterbury to resist bullying calls to suppress student freedom of speech.
 
As an arm of the state, Canterbury is bound to uphold the freedom of speech assured by the NZ Bill of Rights Act. As a university it must also comply with section 161(2)(a) of the Education Act, to allow students ‘to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions.’”
 
“So it was reassuring to read of the university’s refusal to jump to the prune-faced demands that it suppress the irreverence, and bad taste mockery that is a time-honoured celebration of student freedom of speech. We commend the acting law school dean, Professor Elizabeth Toomey, for stating that “the university does 'not play to the role of censor.' Given the cowardice displayed recently at some other universities, that showed courage."
 
"It appears possible the university pressed the students to apologise to a thin-skinned individual who was lampooned. He appears to have played the victim card to derail what sounds like essentially political satire. But that does not detract from the refusal to be panicked into condemning the students."
 
“As a lawyer I’m also reassured to know that young lawyers have not all become de facto priestlings, confined to pious recitations of a new morality. We want lawyers to be brave gladiators for their clients, but too often the law establishment now indulges the snowflakes who want to be protected from anything that offends them. Who’d want lawyers who can’t take sick jokes or challenges to their orthodoxies."
 
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Media Release: Government right to protect free speech from foreign actors

5 August 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Government deserves praise for taking proactive and public steps against the Chinese Consulate’s attempt to interfere with speech at universities, says the Free Speech Coalition.
 
Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Dr David Cumin says, “It would have been easy for the Government to do nothing, for fear of offending a key trading partner. Instead, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reminded the Chinese Government that free speech is a fundamental New Zealand value. Even more importantly, the Prime Minister has publicly confirmed this action, drawing attention to illiberal and surreptitious interference that the Chinese state would rather keep quiet.”
 
“Obviously, it never should have come to this. AUT shouldn’t have even considered scrapping an event based on pressure from a foreign government, peaceful protests at the University of Auckland must be allowed, and violence should never by encouraged. The silver lining to this issue is that Universities can now have confidence in hosting contentious speech with the backing of the Prime Minister. Well done to her.”

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Media Release: Caution urged on planned abortion protest restrictions

7 August 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Responding to the planned ban on protest within 150m of abortion clinics, Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Rachel Poulain says:

“Restrictions on protest near abortion clinics would set a worrying precedent. If we accept a 150 metre restricted-speech zone, there is no clear principle to stop groups arguing for 200 metres, or 500 metres."

"What about protestors near businesses involved in animal testing? Or weapons manufacturing? Staff at these businesses may not appreciate or even deserve to listen to protestors, but we accept the protest in each case, in service of the broader principle.”

“Defending free speech involves letting people say upsetting things in inconvenient places. The principle is too important for us to start picking and choosing when to allow it.”

“It’s important to note that there is already a law against harassment, which covers patterns of confrontational, threatening, or obstructive behaviour. Those promoting new restrictions should consider whether existing law addresses their concerns.”

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Media Release: Council screening of religious material is not free speech

5 AUGUST 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

The use of bylaws to prohibit a Whangarei street preacher from pamphleteering sends a dark message to religious New Zealanders.

“Preachers have the right to share views in public squares, as they have done for thousands of years,” says Rachel Poulain, spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition.

“Now a Whangarei street preacher is told he must obtain a permit to distribute pamphlets in public [1], and this involves submitting his material to the Whangarei District Council which will screen for ‘objectionable’ content. This is the sort of censorship we would expect in the USSR, not liberal New Zealand.”

“Some councils have busking laws that prohibit public performances, but this case goes above and beyond to the point of silencing particular views. Preaching is not entertainment; it is not commercial activity; it is speech.”

“Whangarei District Council’s bylaw requiring written consent for the distribution of printed materials is an abysmal violation of speech [2], as is the Council’s insistence on screening the content of the man’s material.”

“Regardless of how offensive preaching may be to some, it ought to be protected by the law, not shut down.”

The Council’s use of a bylaw to restrict the distribution of written materials comes in addition to the attempt to evoke a ‘public disorder’ argument to prevent spoken word preaching. The Free Speech Coalition sees both approaches as opportunistic attempts to silence unpopular speech.

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Media Release: Foreign influence on AUT chills free speech

30 July 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
AUT University’s cancellation of a commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre betrays the freedoms of students and contradicts the purpose of a university.
 
“AUT’s claim that the cancellation of the peaceful commemorative event was due to the Queen’s Birthday Holiday is a poor excuse,” says Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Dr David Cumin.
 
“OIA requests have shown that the Chinese consulate commended the University for its decision to cancel the booking. Many AUT students will be appalled to see the university play lapdog to a foreign regime.”
 
“The participants of the Tiananmen Square protest were students peacefully protesting a violent regime. AUT dishonours their memory by silencing another protest focused on the same illiberal government.”
 
“Like all publicly-funded universities, AUT has a purpose ‘to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions’, as per sections 161 of the Education Act 1989. Instead, AUT’s attitude towards free speech is beginning to look like that of the Chinese state. These are not New Zealand values; these are despotic values.”
 
“It is suspicious that these events are similar to the University of Auckland's cancellation of screenings of a documentary critical of the Confucius Institute after the consulate’s outcry. New Zealand university students and patrons deserve better.”
 
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Media Release: Politicians should be reminded not to misuse Police to suppress criticism

25 MAY 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Free Speech Coalition calls on the Police and Human Rights Commission to remind politicians that they can’t misuse false complaints Police to suppress criticism.

It is especially important to uphold the freedom of speech guaranteed under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights as elections loom.

“This follows media reports of a Rotorua mayoral candidate seeking Police intervention because a political opponent compared her to the Pied Piper on Facebook.”

Spokesperson, Dr David Cumin, says "The New Zealand Bill of Rights clearly states that 'Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form'."

"Calling for police intervention seems to be a serious attempt to intimidate. It diverts Police from real crime. Politicians who won’t meet argument with argument, and instead ask the state to punish critics are not fit to hold power.”

“It is a great example of how ‘hate speech’ laws would really be used.”

“The Police should clearly state that they cannot censure offensive opinions because our laws explicitly allow for robust discussion. And the Human Rights Commission should be standing up for the human right of free expression."

“Government statements seem to be encouraging attempts to use the law to censure people for expressing their opinions as if ‘hate speech’ law had already replaced our free speech law. Last year, Sir Ray Avery tried to use the Harmful Digital Communications Act to shut down unflattering media reports. Now a Rotorua councillor is trying the same.”

ENDS


Media Release: Andrew Little shows how anti-speech laws will serve political elite

15 APRIL 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Justice Minister Andrew Little has shown how new anti-speech laws would be twisted to suit the political elite, says the Free Speech Coalition. This is in response to Mr Little’s statements suggesting it should be easier to complain about (and sanction) speech like that contained within a ‘One Law for All’ pamphlet.
 
“We now see just how low the bar for defining ‘hate speech’ can go,” says Free Speech Coalition member Dr David Cumin. “The cause of equal citizenship is one supported by a large proportion of New Zealanders. Even if it was a minority position, these New Zealanders should have the same right to make their case as those with opposing views, such as Andrew Little.”
 
“Instead, we see the Justice Minister threatening to use his position of power to shut down the voices of political outsiders. This move would conveniently protect Mr Little’s own political position and set a precedent to shield other ‘politically correct’ views from challenge. It’s a perfect example of how new speech suppression laws can and will be twisted to stifle opposition to those in power.”
 
“Existing laws against harassment and the incitement of violence can, and should, be enforced on an objective basis. The kinds of laws promoted by Andrew Little are far more open to biased interpretation based on the prejudices of the elite political class.”

ENDS


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

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