Banning of manifesto is a step too far
23 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Free Speech Coalition says the Censor’s banning of the Christchurch terrorist attacker’s manifesto is wrong, unconstitutional, and counterproductive.
“This is a completely improper use of the censorship powers,” says Coalition Spokesman and constitutional lawyer, Stephen Franks, responding to media reports of the banning.
“Most New Zealanders will have no interest in reading the rants of an evil person. But there is a major debate going on right now on the causes of extremism. Kiwis should not be wrapped in cotton wool with their news and information censored.”
“New Zealanders need to be able to understand the nature of evil and how it expresses itself.”
“Our society has surmounted many more terrible threats than this by allowing each citizen to engage, hear, read, and reject evil for themselves. It is completely alien to our history and our strength of a self-ruling citizenry to be told that only those in power may know and tell us what they want us to think an evil person has written.”
“For the same reason we don’t ban Mein Kampf, the manifesto should not be driven underground.”
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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."
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."
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.”
Free Speech Coalition condemns National's call to bar Manning
28 August 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The political whims of the National Party must not curtail our right to engage in the most relevant topics of our age says the Free Speech Coalition which is calling on the National Party MP, Michael Woodhouse, to reconsider his comments to the media earlier today.
“The subject of our allies wartime conduct is a matter of great public importance,” says Chris Trotter, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition.
“As a democracy, we have a right to be informed on the activities of our friends on the international stage. New Zealanders deserve a chance to hear her speak.”
“There are other examples of previously convicted criminals that have been allowed entry into New Zealand. Nelson Mandela was allowed entrance in 1995. And Jordan Belfort, also known as the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, was allowed to give a series of motivational speeches in 2014. If these convicted criminals were able to speak in New Zealand, why is Manning any different?”
“We agree with the reported comments Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman that Mr Woodhouse’s campaign for censorship is offensive. New Zealanders should not be denied an opportunity to hear a personal account of military use of power, even by an ally. The Free Speech Coalition hopes Ms Ghahraman continues to support the principle of free speech, no matter the politics of the individual speakers.”
“This isn’t an issue of defending breach of confidence or leaking military secrets. Rather, it is the right of New Zealanders to hear from someone who is noteworthy albeit controversial.”
Local Government Codes of Conduct must not suppress free speech
20 August 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Codes of Conduct drawn up by local government authorities must not encroach upon the rights of elected councillors to speak freely about the behaviour of their own council, its councillors and/or its officials.
The Gisborne District Council’s Deputy Mayor, Rehette Stoltz, has called-in Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown and demanded an explanation for why she spoke to RNZ National about her recent complaint concerning the conduct of two of her fellow councillors. Ms Akuhata-Brown alleges that these councillors had commented at a recent Council function that Captain Cook and his successors had not killed enough Maori.
Free Speech Coalition member Chris Trotter says:
“The Gisborne District Council’s Code of Conduct prohibits councillors from publicly criticising the Council, fellow councillors and/or council officials. Hence the Deputy-Mayor’s please explain summons.”
“Councillors all over New Zealanders are expected to sign similar Codes of Conduct upon election.”
“In doing so, however, they need to be careful not to sign away their ability to act as effective democratic representatives.”
“It is absurd to expect a councillor to remain silent in the face of what he or she believes to be unfair, outrageous or corrupt conduct on the part of the local authorities they serve. Councillors are there to act on behalf of the voters who elected them and they must not be required to reject the means of fulfilling that responsibility before taking their seat at the Council table.”
“The Gisborne incident is a timely example of the central role freedom of speech plays in the democratic process and illustrates the importance of resisting any and all attempts to stifle free political expression.”
“Prohibiting elected representatives from sharing their concerns with their constituents through the news media is a democratic outrage. The Free Speech Coalition strongly urges central government to take a much greater interest in the content of local authority codes of conduct to ensure they do not breach the freedom of expression provisions of the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act.”