A letter from David Cumin

23 March, 2019

 

The overwhelming response to the Christchurch terror attack has been, generally, remarkably positive and uplifting and it makes me proud to be a Kiwi.

 

The hundreds of flowers piled high outside mosques, the tens of thousands of people attending vigils, the millions of dollars raised, and the countless tears shed privately and in public attest to not only the deep impact of the horrific attack but also the depth of sympathy and generosity around the country.

 

Kia kaha, Aotearoa.

 

There have also been remarkable acts of kindness that have surfaced in the news and online: from the bystanders who attended to wounded and dying victims, to a truly incredible survivor forgiving and praying for his wife’s murderer only days after becoming a widower. Truly humbling.

 

The whole country rallied together, it seemed, and this was in no small part because of the compassionate and strong leadership shown by our Prime Minister. Ms Ardern didn’t allow herself to be drawn into partisan politics or divisive speeches; but rather held victims close, pledged sensible actions on gun control and an investigation into how our security services could do better. The way Rt Hon Ms Ardern handled the immediate aftermath of the most horrific attack on New Zealand soil only increased my pride in our small nation.

 

In the immediate hours and days following the heinous attack, it seemed as if the whole country was holding up as best as one can. Especially considering many of us didn’t think such an act could or would be committed in Aotearoa. And special thanks must be given to the emergency services, particularly Police who deployed to sensitive sites to keep us all safe from copycat or revenge attacks and the many officers who put in the hours to be visible deterrents and beacons of comfort.

 

The support from overseas is also noteworthy - generous donations from all over the globe poured in and world leaders from allied nations expressed condolences in our hours of pain. The intangible “thoughts and prayers” go much further than some would think. New gun laws will go further to prevent another mass murder and the bipartisan approach in New Zealand’s parliament on this front has been another ray of light in the gloom.

 

Unfortunately, it did not take long for the fringe activists to capitalise on the tragedy and for there to be some extremely concerning actions that play right into the terrorist’s hands.

 

In his manifesto, the terrorist was clear that he wanted to foment division, spark a “backlash”, and pit other extremists against each other.

 

Social media users were quick to oblige. The vilest posts, of course, were far right keyboard warriors who expressed support for the murder and tried to incite more violence. Thankfully, arrests have been made for such incitement. Thanks once more to our Police and security agencies.

 

Following closely behind support for the cold-blooded slaughter of 50 people were the explicit and implicit calls for exactly the backlash hoped for by the terrorist. Leading this charge was Islamic State, issuing a message for followers to act on; and not far behind was Turkey’s President Erdogen, who whipped up hatred with images from the terrorist’s live-stream of his coldblooded mass murder as Turkish representatives landed in New Zealand.

 

Beyond the copycat and revenge attacks, however, there was a disturbing trend among other social media users. While bodies of the murdered had not yet cooled, there were hotheaded comments that suggested there be wholesale censorship of anything considered “far right”. Some social justice warriors even started creating lists of political opponents they believed to be complicit in the mass murder. It was a vile display of spreading the blame and a gruesome form of modern-day McCarthyism. There were even some who supported violence against an Australian senator who expressed unpalatable views and blamed the victims. Assault should never be OK.

 

I am willing to excuse some of that as hot-headed, kneejerk, grief-led outbursts. However, it is not so easily excusable from the media, elected leaders, and respected companies.

 

While journalists simultaneously called for restraint in comment, there were headlines that focussed on the terrorists visit to Israel in his multi-country travels that included Serbia and North Korea, for example. Or the sensationalist reporting of ISIS threats and the apparent attempts to hide previous stories that suggested the Christchurch mosques had links to international terror groups.

 

Some politicians launched into speeches that seemed to blame the attack on all White people and, for some bizzare reason, separated indigenous people from others - just as the terrorist’s manifesto spoke of “invaders”. Some politicians took swipes at political opponents and encouraged the diversion of anger and grief away from the terrorist and onto political opponents; encouraging exactly the division that the terrorist hoped.

 

Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) suddenly decided to be the guardians of morality and censored wholesale websites without consultation and one national bookseller decided to remove copies of Jordan Peterson’s tome (while continuing to sell Mein Kampf, it must be said). Some elected officials of New Zealand gleefully praised these acts and urged followers to report “hate speech” so that the Police might act on people who express ideas contrary to their own; and the Chief Censor has deemed the terrorist’s manifesto is ‘objectionable’ so that anyone owning it or sharing it or quoting it is liable for a fine or jail.

 

The absurdity and danger of these steps cannot be overstated.

 

First, it is virtually impossible - just ask Chinese people living under a totalitarian regime - to completely censor online material. And I would imagine that the majority of the users of the blocked sites are IT-savvy enough to bypass the ISP measures and let others know how to.

 

And whatever means are used to keep the conversations going and connect like-minded individuals are likely to not only be more difficult for our authorities to monitor, but are likely to become more extreme as they are fuelled by conspiracy theories and resentment at being driven “underground”.

 

Most importantly, however, is the effect that these actions have on our democracy. The message sent by banning a book that has sold millions of copies and helped almost as many people (by all accounts) is that the extremists are representative of the mainstream. If "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world" is verboten, but "By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work" is OK, we are in serious trouble.

 

The undeniable message that is also being sent is that anyone who expresses any sentiment that is in any way contrary to the prevailing mob mentality, then you are worthy of censorship and elimination.

 

The danger and hypocrisy of such thinking can best be illustrated by considering the para-factual. Exactly the same widespread blaming and calls for mass censorship were coming from the far right after previous Islamist terror attacks.

 

The extreme-left and Islamists today are acting entirely congruent with the far-right of yesterday.

 

Cooler heads must prevail. This tragedy must not lead to the measures those who are exploiting the murder are calling for. We must maintain our freedoms.

 

Now that families have buried their loved ones, now that the immediate threat of copycat or revenge attacks are over, now that we have all had a little time to digest the events of 15 March, 2019, let us take a breath.

 

New Zealand has changed forever. Our innocence has been taken. But we must remain a liberal democracy. We must fight for the right of abhorrent views to be expressed as long as they do not incite violence. The alternative is much, much, worse because not only will the extremists on all sides become emboldened, but we will all lose important freedoms.

 

We must struggle with ideas - especially when they are distasteful. We must counter the hate with love and better ideas. We must challenge ourselves and others. We must not submit to those who think they know better or those who threaten us with violence.

 

Kia kaha, Aotearoa.

David Cumin


Christchurch shootings

Free Speech Coalition offers condolences to those affected by the Christchurch Shooting

 

The Free Speech Coalition joins the rest of New Zealand in its mourning and condemnation of the events in Christchurch.  On behalf of the Coalition, Rachel Poulain says:

"Yesterday, New Zealand’s Muslim community, the people of Christchurch and indeed, the nation, were subject to the most despicable act of terrorism in our history. 

To peacefully practice one’s religion is one of the most fundamental freedoms of expression we have. Yesterday, a disgraceful, cowardly terrorist used weapons of war to violently silence innocent people in the worst possible way, as they were doing just that.

This was an attack on everything New Zealand stands for as a liberal democracy.

Violent extremism knows no political bounds. Anyone who threatens, intimidates, or physically harms another person for ideological reasons is wrong. What happened yesterday was the absolute worst manifestation of that.

The principle of freedom of speech should be inseparable from the principle of non-violence. If not, it counts for nothing. Those who condone or use violence are the villains, always.

We extend our deepest condolences and aroha to the victims of this horrific crime.”

 

END


Media Release: Free Speech Coalition condemns assault on Shaw

14 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Responding to the reported assault of Green Party co-Leader James Shaw, Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Patrick Corish says:

“The assault of James Shaw should be universally condemned, especially if it is shown to be politically-motivated. In New Zealand we enjoy the right to free exchange of political ideas -- there is no excuse for communicating through violence.”

“If we normalise political assaults, serious or not, we risk violence eventually being turned on anyone who dares express their political views. This would be a tragedy for free speech in a country that currently enjoys a relatively open and peaceful public debate.”

ENDS 


Media Release: Australian Government right in allowing Yiannopoulos to enter

13 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Government should confirm it shares the position of Australia’s Immigration Minister, who has lifted the ban of controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos from entering the country.
 
Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Patrick Corish says, “Australia’s Immigration Minister has rightly reversed the his department's attempts to block Mr Yiannopoulos’ entry, a win for the idea that controversial speech is still protected speech.
 
“Commonwealth nations must adhere to the shared legal traditions that recognise the marketplace of ideas as the ideal platform for social progress, rather than state guidance.”
 
“Censorship-by-revoked-visa is a threatening prospect that governments may be tempted to employ to censor unpopular or inconvenient speech. The New Zealand Government should support Australia’s latest decision and commit to never revoking visas on the grounds of protecting New Zealanders from speech it deems politically incorrect.”
 
The Free Speech Coalition does not endorse Milo Yiannopoulos’ views or the methods in which he spreads those views, and is fighting for his right to speak only.
 
ENDS 


Media Release: NZ must be better than Australia on Yiannopoulos issue

MEDIA RELEASE

NZ must be better than Australia on Yiannopoulos issue

7 March 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Government must reaffirm its position on allowing controversial speakers to enter New Zealand in light of the Morrison government’s denial of entry for Milo Yiannopoulos.

 
Free Speech Coalition spokesperson David Cumin says, “Last year Australia banned Chelsea Manning from visiting on character grounds.  In August 2018 the National Party pressed the Government to follow Australia’s lead, but the Government commendably supported Manning’s right to speak. The Government should publicly reaffirm its commitment to free speech in light of Australia’s ban of Yiannopoulos,” 
 
“Citizens are entitled to receive any information they wish. This is one of the principles that make Western democracies the envy of the world. We do not keep our citizens in the dark. Adults are capable of discerning what is good or bad information.”
 
“Censorship by revoked visa risks becoming a popular weapon for governments opposed to certain types of speech. New Zealand must not follow Australia’s anti-speech, anti-freedom example. Let’s show our cousins across the strait what a true liberal democracy looks like.”
 
The Free Speech Coalition has no opinion on Milo Yiannopoulos’ views or on the methods in which he spreads those views, and is fighting for his right to speak only.
 
ENDS 

 


Media Release: Massey release whitewash report

This afternoon Massey University released a report it commissioned from Martin Jenkins titled Cancellation of venue for Dr Brash speaking event: Independent report for the Massey University Council on lessons from this episode.

You can read the report here.

We had a heads-up that the report was coming, but had been told to expect something that cleared Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas.  Instead, as we read the report, it became clear that it is not only an attempted whitewash, its errors, omissions, and approach reflect precisely what is wrong with Massey University.

Rather than considering whether the decision to ban Dr Brash was the right one, or elucidate why free speech at a university is important, it focuses on strengthening policies to prevent people feeling “culturally unsafe” and makes recommendations to ensure the University's decisions are consistent with its desire to be 'Treaty-led'.

Rather than discussing why the University should stand up to the thugs and disruptors to ensure students can hear controversial ideas, it focuses at how communication and media was managed following the Official Information Act requests by the Free Speech Coalition. It recommends more PR and media management!

In short, we think Massey stakeholders should be embarrassed – it suggests the university has lost its way.  We have only had the report a few hours, but even a casual readthrough is enough to identify numerous factual errors and omissions.  It has clearly been commissioned by the University in an attempt to protect Prof Thomas from having to step down as a result of her decision to ban Dr Brash from campus.  We don’t think it will work.

Here is Dr David Cumin media release on behalf of the Free Speech Coalition:

 

Media release

Martin Jenkins' report for Massey University Council a “shonky whitewash”

19 December 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

If the Martin Jenkins' report released today by Massey University is reflective of the quality of thinking at the University, it is little wonder donations and student enrolments to the institution are declining, says the Free Speech Coalition.

“We’ve only just received the report, but can immediately identify inaccuracies which call the whole thing into question,” says Dr David Cumin, a spokesman for the group.

“The report makes the Vice Chancellor’s position even more untenable by confirming that, despite her public comments, there was no real Police consultation or threat assessment prior to her decision to deplatform Dr Don Brash earlier in the year."

"The report confirms that Prof. Thomas was ‘uncomfortable’ with Dr Brash’s views, that the University was worried about people feeling ‘culturally unsafe’, and that Prof. Thomas wanted to use conditions of funding from the University to student clubs and societies to censor who they can invite to speak on campus."

"However, in a bizarre conclusion that seems to ignore those facts and emails released under the Official Information Act where Prof Thomas asked staff to find 'any mechanisms' to disallow the event, the report found Prof Thomas 'did not intend to prevent the event from taking place on campus'."

“Furthermore, Dr Brash, despite being the subject of the report, was never interviewed or consulted with as part of the investigation. To say the least, that is puzzling.”

“Nor did the report’s authors bother to talk to our group. Perhaps that is why there was a factual error in reference to our work. The report claims that we have abandoned our litigation against Auckland Council and Mayor Phil Goff. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trial is set down for next year, and is publicly available information.”

“The whole report is based on the premise that the University’s desire to be Tiriti-led, trumps considerations of free speech. It claims that academic freedom does not count as technically Dr Brash is not an academic and makes no recommendation that would suggest free speech must be rigorously defended on a university campus. Instead of enhancing Massey’s reputation as a bastion for sound debate, it continues to make the whole institution look pathetic.”

“Instead of explaining that a University’s role as a critic of society sometimes requires taking risks or offending, the report regards the real failing as one of media management and public relations.”

“The report confirmed that the Massey Foundation is losing donors, and prospective students and staff have rejected the university because of its failure to defend free speech. But its main recommendation is increasing the spending on specialist PR and media advice to mitigate fallout from future deplatforming rather than considering what everyone objects to and seeking steps to promote robust debate. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It makes a farce of the value of a university degree from Massey University.” 

“The immediate irony in this report is that it does further damage to the University’s reputation. Instead of an intellectually honest fact-finding mission, it is an exercise in corporate risk management and a shonky whitewash of a clear stifling of free speech. It highlights precisely why donors, students, and academics are shunning Massey University and its leadership."

ENDS


Media Release: Massey University must front-up and explain Jan Thomas correspondence

MEDIA RELEASE

Massey University must front-up and explain Jan Thomas Correspondence 

19 September 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Massey University must front up and explain why the Vice Chancellor’s public statements that it was her concerns about security that prompted her to deplatform former Reserve Bank Governor and Leader of the Opposition Dr. Don Brash from speaking at the University when documents obtained under the Official Information Act appear to demonstrate otherwise.

Free Speech Coalition spokesman Dr David Cumin says “These documents call into question many of the Vice Chancellor’s public statements about respecting free speech. To the contrary, it appears Professor Thomas was keen to ‘ban’ Dr Brash on the basis of his views.”

“On the face of them, these documents even suggest Professor Thomas mislead Massey’s Academic Board Chair. We are calling on Massey University to investigate these matters, which if proven, obviously warrant dismissal.”

“In western societies, universities enjoy a privileged status on the basis of their commitment to academic freedom. When they come under assault from populist governments or anti-intellectual movements who want to dismantle that status, the academic elite rightly argue that they are the critic and conscience of society. Professor Thomas’ actions imply Massey has abandoned those principles.”

"In terms of our legal action - these documents are very significant. Our legal action against Phil Goff showed that he had lied in relation to his purported decision to 'ban' two Canadian speakers from Council-owned venues, when the truth was it was a decision made totally by officials relation to specific security concerns. Here, the Vice-Chancellor claimed her decision related to security concerns, but in-fact it is very clear it was based on her personal dislike of Dr Brash and his views."

"On the basis of these documents, we think the Vice Chancellor has gone out to attack Dr Brash, and the Free Speech Coalition, in relation to her media statement that Dr Brash 'is a supporter' of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Of course the Free Speech Coalition are not supporters of the Canadians, but formed to protect their rights to speak - and New Zealanders right to hear them. The Vice Chancellor would certainly know there was a difference, but maliciously made the slur anyway."

 

ENDS


Official Information Act Release

We have received more than 800 pages of documents from Massey University as a result of our request for information under the Official Information Act 1982. 

The documents are attached here for you to read.

 


Media Release: Harmful Digital Communications Act deployed against free speech

MEDIA RELEASE

Harmful Digital Communications Act deployed against free speech

12 September 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

A challenge to suppress media organisations suggests the Harmful Communications Act may need to be scrapped, says the Free Speech Coalition.
 
Coalition spokesman Dr David Cumin says, “Sir Ray Avery’s use of cyberbullying laws to attempt to shut down media reports on matters of public interest shows how this well-intended legislation can be weaponised against legitimate speech.”
 
“Once upon a time, Sir Ray's main recourse against the media would have been defamation law. But now, he has an easier route – the Harmful Digital Communications Act allows him to claim ‘serious emotional distress’ and ‘digital harm’, without having to demonstrate that Newsroom’s reports are untrue.”
 
“This case shows just how dangerous it is to legislate against subjective notions of ‘emotional distress’. Our speech rights should not be subject to someone else’s sense of personal offence. And as with defamation, truth should be an ultimate defence.”
 
“In being dragged through the complaints process, Newsroom has already been penalised for its speech – the punishment is in the process. This, combined with the chilling effect that this process may have on other journalists writing similar articles, shows that the Harmful Digital Communications Act is not fit for purpose. If the Act cannot be salvaged, it should be scrapped.”

 

ENDS