Breaking: Court of Appeal improves on the High Court, but still gives-in to Thug’s veto’

After eight months of waiting, today we received the decision from the Court of Appeal on our court action against Auckland Council that started the Free Speech Coalition back in 2018 (a special podcast episode summarising the decision is here).

You’ll remember that it began when the Mayor claimed on radio that he had banned two controversial Canadian speakers from using public meeting venues (Council controlled) because they were “divisive”.

When we got the Council evidence it said that the Mayor did not have power to make that decision because Auckland Council venues were controlled by a separate Trust, and he had not made the decision. The evidence said that instead the hall bookings were cancelled because of protestor threats raising health and safety fears.

We continued the case because it was important for Mayors to be told that they can’t discriminate on political grounds in using their powers to control ratepayer assets, and that Councils can’t hide from their obligations to protect freedom of speech by appointing other bodies to manage those assets. But we were mainly concerned to get a clear message from the courts that public bodies would have a high threshold to cross before they allowed the “thugs’ veto” to trump freedom of speech.

We won:

  1. on the point that Bill of Rights Act obligations (including freedom of speech) apply to councils and their subsidiaries that control public venues. In other words, Councils can’t hide behind “independent” managers – the Court of Appeal overruled the High Court on this point;
  2. in a terse reversal of the lower court’s incomprehensible ruling that we were not bringing a case of public interest and importance;
  3. in a similarly brusque dismissal of the lower court’s decision that our representative plaintiffs were on a personal crusade and did not have standing to bring the case;
  4. in statements about the importance of free speech and obligations not to assert health and safety fears without proper foundation;
  5. in getting the costs award against us cut by 70%, because of the public interest nature of our case. This is an unusually large discount. We could say it suggests we have been upheld 70% and lost as to 30% but that is not necessarily the way these things are calculated.

We lost:

  1. on our key argument that the cancellation decision should have been made after much more investigation of ways to diminish the protestor threats to health and safety. The Court of Appeal says the speaking tour organisers were not upfront enough with the venue managers about the protest risks. We think this is a shame. In other contexts victim blaming is called out, but not this time;
  2. in that the Court fails to give a clear steer on just how important it is to ensure that Thugs’ Veto does not win. The judges have weaved around the issue, saying we do not have US-style law, and citing similar Canadian evasions where thugs have defeated free speech. They say our judges will have to develop law that suits New Zealand, but don’t take the opportunity to do so;
  3. in that the Court treated our withdrawal of our lawsuit against the Mayor as if it made his false claim immaterial. We hoped that the Court would mention the context of the case, that it came about when the Mayor claimed publicly that he’d banned the speakers from Council venues.  As it turned out he was lying but the Court just didn’t go on to say directly that if his claim had been true, it would have been unlawful. We think that conclusion underlies the decision, but it would have been better to have it stated clearly.

On balance, we are satisfied to have secured a much-improved judgement. But the murkier parts of the decision, and our experience before the High Court show how vulnerable human rights can be in New Zealand.

The court displayed none of the passionate commitment to defending fundamental rights it has shown in other ‘constitutional’ cases. Section 5 of our Bill of Rights gives a wide scope for courts to find that rights are limited according to the political inclinations of judges from time to time. Here was a perfect opportunity for the bench to stand on the side of free speech - but they've ducked for cover.

For example, while lawyers will read this decision and tell councils that they must be careful to give due regard to freedom of expression in hiring venues, and that politicians can't stop people they don't like from using public facilities, the Court chose not to state it that simply. The rejection of Mr Goff's behaviour should been clear, not just implied.

We don’t really have a “bill of rights” so much as a “bill of reasonable rights” - and what is “reasonable” might be anyone’s guess. How section 5 is used when the thug’s veto is next on trial may show whether it is just a cloak for leaving unpopular or minority views unprotected.

Our work from here: stepping up the fight for free speech

If this case shows anything it is that we must make free speech fashionable again. Anticipating this decision, behind the scenes we've been putting huge hours into the next step of defending, and improving, free speech in New Zealand. We can't wait to tell you about it very soon.

Thank you for your support.

FSC Podcast: Dr Kierstead on ancient Greek values of free speech

In the newest episode of the Free Speech Coalition podcast, Patrick Corish interviews Victoria University of Wellington Senior Lecturer of Classical Studies James Kierstead.

Dr Kierstead gives a unique perspective on free speech in ancient Greece and talks about his research work on diversity of thought in academia. They also tackle the question classical students often wonder: was Socrates an assh*le? 

You can listen to the podcast interview by searching "Free Speech Coalition" via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your chosen podcast app. Click here to listen online.

Some journalists don't want a free press

New Zealand media bosses are worrying about the financial viability of news yet don’t seem to be losing any sleep over the collapse of quality journalism.

They have a lot on their plate with the advertising world dominated by Facebook and Google. Maybe it will help if Silicon Valley has to stump up cash to pay for the news industry it destroyed.

The other big hope is taxpayer handouts.

Nobody talks about how many media outlets and journalists have forsaken free speech, objectivity, and balance in favour of promoting a woke ideology they hope will appeal to young consumers sought by advertisers.

In considering the economic situation, and the appalling state of some (not all) journalism - is media worth saving?

A free flow of information is becoming rarer, with blockages even here in New Zealand.

Increasingly, our media is promoting narratives about what should be true and what drew attention on Twitter, rather than reporting the world as it is and trying to explain it.

Objectivity has been out of vogue for a long time - but the slide against free speech, or at least a nuanced view of the concept is more recent (I would argue in the past three years).

A desire for drama and the need to feed into accepted narratives, along with peer pressure have always been factors in journalism. But it’s getting harder to refute that some New Zealand media people are picking sides in the culture wars.

Journalists are on the hunt for people who disagree with the narrative – the message underlying reportage - with some seeing fascists, racists, and white supremacists at every turn. Admittedly this is mostly in opinion articles and is an accepted part of the free flow of information. But this one-sidedness can drift into the news.

The heart for free speech might still be ticking. But too often debates have been shuffled into an ideological cubby hole of “problematical thinking” by journalists – Goodies and Baddies.

It is not rare to find journalists who agree with Cancel Culture and that fashionable but contentious views must not be challenged. 

Political views are obligated to be balanced, especially during an election campaign.

But for most of the year we have seen stories that promote one side of the story.

This is due to two factors. The first is a condition in media standards that balance is not required for individual stories. But over an extended period, we used to see many perspectives on a topic. The fact is with some topics today, the media will only cover the one side.

News stories will inevitably focus on one angle. That is how it works. But (call me old fashioned) the expectation for a balancing paragraph - even at the tail-end of a story - has lapsed.

Secondly, New Zealand journalism has tended to favour authority. Think back to the days of media being obliged to oppose workers in the 1951 Waterfront Lockout. But authority now is represented by university-inspired elite philosophy that is essentially middle class and just as divorced from many Kiwi’s everyday reality as those who opposed the workers of 1951.

This trend is killing free speech both internationally and here.

The former editor in chief of the NZ Herald - Gavin Ellis - wrote in Newsroom:

"It is time for New Zealand media to shift to adversity journalism.”

“This will require journalists and news organisations to see themselves as part of the national effort to defeat the enemy and not as dispassionate observers.”

Yeah, Nah.

I'd also like journalists to remain focused on scrutinising a burgeoning new authoritarian state - rather than expend energy dobbing in people spotted outside their designated neighbourhoods during the lockdown.

Media should not be ignoring a growing mood to censorship within the profession along dwindling support for free speech.

Then there is Cancel Culture – a global trend of media tacitly supporting moves by activist groups to de-platform people who say things they don't like, often resulting in firings.  It may not have happened here, but we can expect it in short time.

The highest profile campaign was against the Harry Potter author JK Rowling who made the “dangerous” comment that men cannot literally become women just by saying so.

Stuff added some balance to its dubious coverage after I lodged an official complaint. The gender issue and its attempts to shut down naysayers is the canary in the coalmine for attacks on free speech.

Indeed, in my opinion Stuff is the worst offender in regard to wokeness and one-sided stories. Some will tell you such views on pervasive lack of balance are paranoid - that talk of woke agendas and Cancel Culture are part of the same Right-Wing conspiracy that gave us white privilege. According to this view journalists must intervene to set us all straight – there is nothing to see here.

But many journalists will tell you sotto-voce that there are some views that are not acceptable in newsrooms – red button issues like gender, race and immigration. The problem is said to be advanced at Stuff and Radio New Zealand. But as George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone does not want published, everything else is public relations.

The appearance of a new, freewheeling and largely uncensored private discussion group on Facebook, “The Press Club”, gives an aerial view on the rocky landscape for free speech for New Zealand journalist circles. One senior journalist had a nuanced view that his mission was to provide free speech to underprivileged minorities and groups who were otherwise shut out. While wealthy people like JK Rowling had the resources to have their views aired, trans people, people of colour, Indigenous people, and recent immigrants, too, should be able to speak without being further marginalised by privileged people.

Another high-profile journalist on the page was unhappy journalists were group traversing the trans-gender issue. It was dangerous, ill-informed, bigoted, transphobic, while hiding it behind some kind of “free speech” or “bad journalism” ideology. The journalist withdrew from the discussion group over the issue. They are entitled to their opinion, but I was still shocked a journalist would quit a group of their peers because it didn’t conform to a specific, and contentious ideological position.  

To me this runs counter to the spirit of journalism, and liberalism. 

Author: John Drinnan

Media Release: Large number of MPs vote to uphold important free speech principle


MPs vote to uphold important free speech principle

11 March 2020

The Free Speech Coalition congratulates Parliament on removing the provisions which would have made "safe zones" around abortion clinics enforceable. Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Stephen Franks says:

"While harassment and intimidation of women seeking treatment from abortion clinics remains a criminal offence, and rightly so, Parliament was correct to uphold the principled right of New Zealanders to peacefully protest and express views."

"This would have created an indefensible precedent, and we thank the MPs for voting in favour of David Seymour's initial Supplementary Order Paper."

MPs who stood up for the principle of free speech in voting for the first part of David Seymour's SOP:

ACT Party (1/1)

  • David Seymour

National Party (41/55)

  • Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi
  • Maggie Barry
  • David Bennett
  • Dan Bidois
  • Chris Bishop
  • Simon Bridges
  • Simeon Brown
  • David Carter
  • Jacqui Dean
  • Sarah Dowie
  • Andrew Falloon
  • Paulo Garcia
  • Joanne Hayes
  • Harete Hipango
  • Brett Hudson
  • Matt King
  • Barbara Kuriger
  • Melissa Lee
  • Denise Lee
  • Agnes Loheni
  • Tim Macindoe
  • Todd McClay
  • Ian McKelvie
  • Todd Muller
  • Simon O'Connor
  • Parmjeet Parmar
  • Chris Penk
  • Maureen Pugh
  • Shane Reti
  • Alastair Scott
  • Scott Simpson
  • Nick Smith
  • Stuart Smith
  • Anne Tolley
  • Louise Upston
  • Tim van de Molen
  • Nicola Willis
  • Michael Woodhouse
  • Jain Yang
  • Jonathan Young
  • Lawrence Yule

Labour Party (5/46)

  • Kiritapu Allan
  • Keiran McAnulty
  • Greg O'Connor
  • David Parker
  • Michael Wood

NZ First (9/9)

  • Darroch Ball
  • Shane Jones
  • Jenny Marcroft
  • Ron Mark
  • Tracey Martin
  • Clayton Mitchell
  • Mark Patterson
  • Winston Peters
  • Fletcher Tabuteau

Green Party (0/6)


Media Release: Threats against mosque is not free speech

3 March 2020


The Free Speech Coalition condemns the recent threat against the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch and calls for a deeper understanding of free speech in the light of these events.

“This disgusting and cowardly threat on the Al Noor mosque is deplorable,” says Jordan Williams, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition.

“Threats of violence are not free speech, they do not communicate a message, and they are not supported by free speech principles.”

“We are already seeing calls in support of removing anonymity from internet users as a reaction to this repugnant act. While some may welcome a limit to their rights in the heat of the moment, we must remember that any restrictions on our freedoms have farther stretching implications than we think. Recall that threats of violence are already illegal.”

“An end to anonymity on the internet can threaten the safety of many activists fighting tyranny abroad. Many have family and friends in dangerous places. Anonymity protects not just the speaker’s safety but those of their loved ones.”

“Critics calling for tighter restrictions on speech should note that the threat made against Al Noor mosque is already illegal under New Zealand law. The correct response should be to punish the individual responsible for making these disgusting remarks, not to abolish our rights to free speech.”

“The best antidote to hatred is speaking up and calling it out. Providing a platform to do that is of fundamental importance of free speech.”


Media Release: Peter Singer's de-platforming is a worrying sign for New Zealand's intellectual freedom

19 February 2020


Responding to the cancellation of Australian academic Peter Singer's talk by Sky City, Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Patrick Corish says:

“SkyCity has every right to cancel a speaking event, but they do open themselves up to criticism of being fearful of a little controversy.”

“The larger free speech concern here revolves around how Mr Singer will find another venue, considering Auckland Council has a near-monopoly on suitable alternatives. The Council has proven that it is easily spooked by threats of protest, and already politicians are calling on the Council to ban Professor Singer as it did to controversial Canadian speakers.”

“When Auckland Council cancelled Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, the speakers had to find a private venue at the last minute. Options were limited and as a result their arrangements fell through.”

“More broadly, it’s disturbing that controversial speakers are increasingly being de-platformed, instead of simply protested.”

“These sort of topics are discussed routinely in a 100 level philosophy class.”

“Many New Zealanders who mightn’t agree with Mr Singer’s views may still be interested in hearing what he has to say. It’s a shame SkyCity doesn’t seem to value that kind of intellectual curiosity.”

“Mr Singer’s speaking plans have already sparked some healthy debate over his views. It only seems to be a small minority of critics who want to go so far as silencing him. We shouldn’t let them speak for all of us.”


John Drinnan: Dark days ahead as kiwi media turn their backs on ‘free speech’

Megan Murphy
Local Women’s Rights groups found few allies in the NZ press when they invited Canadian, gender-critical feminist Meghan Murphy to New Zealand to speak at Massey, an event the university shut-down.  


It seems like New Zealand news media companies no longer care about freedom of speech.

Partly, many journalists now reject unfashionable concepts like objectivity and balance. But also, media do not want to be involved in contentious issues, topics and opinions that can annoy advertisers.

Once the editorial policy of news media was jealously guarded by journalists. Now it is divided between marketing departments and busy editors. Bizarrely, in this context, young, cheap and inexperienced journalists are encouraged to let their opinions all hang out. The reality in 2020 is that many newsrooms are religiously “woke” and built around the views of this liberal elite.

Journalists do not regulate their own biases because are no longer required to.

The trend is not unique to New Zealand, but our media is worse because it is small, chronically understaffed and desperate for content. There is widespread copy sharing. We have all seen a biased story on one media site turn up untouched on another. We expect “The Spinoff” to provide a woke middle class view of the world, and “NBR” to write for the business world. But mainstream media once kept religiously to separation of news, opinion and balance.

Now, media have become promoters of a woke ideology that labels sceptics “racist” and “bigoted” and demands apologies for perceived wrongs.

Twelve months ago, Justice minister Andrew Little promoted himself as a champion of free speech. But he has drifted into the Party machine. He is developing more controls on what can and cannot be said in partnership with the strongly ideological and censorious new chief commissioner of the influential Human Rights Commission, Paul Hunt.

The news industry’s Media Freedom Committee once fought tooth and nail to resist controlled speech. Last year the media actively worked with the government to self-censor and restrict it.

Bauer Media's “North & South” and “The Listener” have written editorials about the growing threat to free speech from censorship. But, “Radio New Zealand” and the “Stuff” newsrooms are culturally woke and the “New Zealand Herald” is complacent.

Sometimes, media are just scared of woke mob. The “ODT” quickly caved when activists campaigned against a cartoon by Garrick Tremain. The cartoon was labelled as racist and fascistic, when it was simply a witless, dumb pun.

The New Zealand Herald parted company with its best female writer in Rachel Stewart who had opposed the Massey University ban on world-famous gender-critical feminist Meghan Murphy.

The Herald’s cowardly censorship was embarrassing but it is also a lost opportunity. If there were an activist backlash against Stewart’s (mainstream) views, the Herald could’ve said that it backed neither side, but maintained Freedom of Speech. Instead the Herald showed that it is easily frightened and susceptible to activist bullies pushing advertiser boycotts. For fear of being offside with a perceived important demographic in the current zeitgeist – a pro-censorship elite - The Herald surrendered in advance to activists.

The clash between the rights of women and the trans activist movement is global. It is the canary in the coal mine for media and free speech. Media censorship and the mishandling of the topic exposes how bad a shape New Zealand journalism is in.

Three journalists told me that the topic is forbidden by mainstream media because it is too contentious. According to one journalist an editor made it clear to them that she “hated” women’s rights campaigners who insisted that trans women are not women.Her publication would not give space to their views, the writer was told. 

Two top New Zealand writers said that, after being rejected for stories examining the gender issue, they were told that if they sold the stories elsewhere, they should use pseudonyms or risk future employment.

Several corporate advertisers maintain activist LGBT consultants such as “Rainbow Tick”, which played a key role in the Massey University ban. With the lack of courage at a corporate level, some media have simply thrown in the towel when it comes to ensuring balance from staff and protecting against bias. There is nothing wrong in Radio New Zealand and Stuff hiring former LGBT activists to be “gender reporters” But feminists have found RNZ digital and Stuff (though not the Sunday Star Times) refuse to cover their oppositional views.

Controversy and debate were once welcomed by media. They sought to create controversy and clicks. Now media's focus is avoiding legal costs for claims to the Press Council or BSA lawyers’ fees.

What’s most disconcerting is extreme woke views are backed by institutions like the Human Rights Commission. The Labour Party and Green MPs read from the exact hymn book on many of these issues.  

John Drinnan has been a journalist for 40 years. He has written on media for the NZ Herald, The Dominion, Variety, and Financial Times Screen Finance.

As free speech defenders, the Free Speech Coalition publish pertinent material and views that are not necessarily those of all Coalition members, and may not entirely represent the views of any. Accordingly attributed pieces are the views of their authors. If you would like to submit a piece for consideration for this blog, please email coalition [at]


New campaign launched asking VUW to adopt Chicago Principles

A group of academics have launched a campaign calling for Victoria University of Wellington to adopt the University of Chicago's statement on free speech.  The campaign is being led by VUW's Associate Dean of Education, Dr Michael Johnston.  

Dr Johnston sat down with Patrick on the Free Speech Coalition's podcast to discuss the campaign and how educational institutions do their students a disservice by trying to 'protect' them from controversial or offensive ideas or speakers.

You can listen to the podcast interview by searching "Free Speech Coalition" via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your chosen podcast app.  To listen online click here.

The Chicago principles are available here.

A copy of Dr Johnston's letter is below.

Media Release: FSC Offers Help To Massey On Free Speech Policy

25 October 2019

Free Speech Coalition offers help to Massey University in drafting its policy on free speech on campus and points to the University of Chicago's statement on free speech as a template.

"The most recent affront to free speech on the Massey university campus involved staff tearing down pro-democracy posters. Massey University administrators have said this was a mistake and that they are reviewing their procedures." 

Free Speech Coalition Spokesperson, Rachel Poulain, says "there are good examples of policy that could simply be adopted without much effort. Massey don’t need to waste time reinventing the wheel. The Chicago policy is world leading, with many of the world’s best universities signing up to it." 

"Massey should walk the walk and not just talk the talk on free speech by adopting the policy. If not, it should say what exactly is wrong with it."

"It’s not long or complicated. Massey has made weird excuses that the free speech problem needs “nuance”. The world’s great centres of learning have found it pretty straightforward for decades. We set out part of the Chicago statement below." 

“Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” - An excerpt from the Chicago Statement.