Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The price of freedom of speech

Phil Goff has pointed out that the publication of those cartoons could cost New Zealand up to $100 million if Iran carries through with its threat to cancel trade deals with countries where the cartoons are published. The implication being that people should have shut up for the sake of our exporters. I don't think so. Freedom of speech is not subject to the veto of the business community. If they don't like what is being said and fear losing money, they can of course speak up in their defence. But they shouldn't expect anyone to remain silent on their behalf.


Well I think Goff is doing the right thing. He's not banning free speech, he is just trying to look after NZs interests by explaining that the DomPost is not controlled by the government and that it would be unfair to financially penalise NZ farmers for comments made by a newspaper editor.

I completely support the right of the newspaper to print the cartoons in question, but I think Goff has a job to represent NZ interests, and defend them. He's trying to do just that in a situation where he gets pulled from btoh sides.

Posted by Aaron Bhatnagar : 2/07/2006 02:11:00 PM

Aaron: I think Goff should very definitely advocate for our interests, and particularly make the point that we have a free press in this country, and the government is no more responsible than the Pope for what it says. He's also perfectly entitled to point out that this publication may have consequences. But I don't think that there's any obligation on the rest of us to silence ourselves as a result.

As an interesting aside, while browsing the National Archives last week, I came across a letter from the early 80's, to then-Justice Minister Jim McLay, on the Muldoon government's proposal to impose a penalty of up to 14 years in jail on anyone who said anything which could harm New Zealand's economic interests or international relations. The correspondent - clearly one of Rob's Mob - thought it would be an excellent chance to put the whining commie pinko lezzies who had stopped him from watching the rugby away for good. This makes me very glad that we have a Bill of Rights Act.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/07/2006 03:02:00 PM

But it's interesting that the newspapers doing the stirring have negligible commercial exposure to the consequences of their actions (in fact controversy is likely to increase sales). And in areas where they *do* face exposure (eg local interests, say the Malcolm Evans saga), they're not quite so brave.
In a genuine community, you might reasonably expect a little more consideration of the financial impact to others.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 03:27:00 PM

Huskynut: while it would be nice if they considered the financial impact on others (or indeed, the impact of being offensive), they're not under any obligation to do so.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/07/2006 03:48:00 PM

Phil Goff can imply things until the cows come home, as you state, the press has _no_ obligation to listen. This is, once again, a sign of how robust our freedoms are.

OTOH, Helen Clark makes an excellent point :


Publishing the cartoons has put the lives of New Zealanders overseas at risk. With freedom comes responsibility and it's very easy to hail freedoms when it isn't your blood that's spilled to defend it. No?

Posted by Muerk : 2/07/2006 05:45:00 PM

For one lonely, solitary moment, Idiot, the stars must have strangely aligned, as I actually agree with you wholeheartedly. This is completely unexpected -beyond the pale - and the only explanation I can furnish is that you must be becoming more like me. Which is of course a good thing

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 06:10:00 PM

You're right I/S, they are under no obligation, and that is precisely the issue. The newspaper (corporation) is no moral obligation to consider anything other than the bottom line, which means that, though it has a plethora of legal rights, unlike a normal citizen, a company lacks any corresponding set of responsibilities.
So what on earth gives it the right to even enter the arena and pontificate on moral questions such as the religious cartoons?
As individuals, people have a right to a moral stance, but what right does a newspaper, representing predominantly financial interests, have to even have a voice in the debate, let alone to inflame it?

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 06:31:00 PM

Elaborating on that theme a little..

The West are great at extolling the virtues of our secular corporatist democracy (for let's not pretend that anyone gets to signup to less than the full package - no democracy without free trade etc etc): nominally representative democracy; individual freedom of speech, action and thought; and economic prosperity. They're curiously silent about some of the downsides: rampant consumerism, unhappiness, isolation, increasing concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few, and the demise of spirituality from any meaningful place in society.

I think Islamic society correctly perceives Western power intentions as ultimately nothing less than the complete replacement of their culture with secular corporatism. It's not like there's any widespread attempt to understand Islamicism, or to see how the two cultures might be integrated. Look what happened to the cultural antiquity of Iraq after the invasion - you might almost have thought the intention was to erase as much of it as possible.

So why the faux surprise everywhere that so many Muslims correctly sense their potential cultural annihilation and become so militant about defending it?

It's easy for those of us on the side of corporate secularism to be rather lazy about understanding Islam, given the momentum of history lies in the West's favour. Perhaps the West will ultimately 'triumph' and the usual suspects will come out to gloat. But in just the same way as the plant species disappearing from Papua New Guinea under the weight of global warming, that may not be such a human evolutionary triumph.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 07:10:00 PM


NO, Helen Clark didn't make an "excellent point" - unless she how regrets committing peacekeepers and foreign aid to East Timor, which was NOT looked upon kindly by the more extremist sections of Islamist opinion.

And perhaps, Murek, you'd like to think about who had a DPS detail on 24/7 call. Hint: It's not DomPost editor Tim Pankhurst. So, please spare me the sanctimonious crap about how the media don't have to face the consequences of their actions. Try joining the reality-based community, and get a little informed about the state of press freedoms in the world today.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/07/2006 08:58:00 PM

OOOOH! aren't we all very precious ,some even very angry.
Publically respecting other peoples beliefs is a basic form of diplomacy and plain god manners.
Using the excuse of free speech to publish and extend an insult such as the Danes caused shows a complete lack of respect.
It has little to do with free speech and all to do with circulation numbers and dollars it sems to me.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 10:12:00 PM

Muerk is right. I had an email from my daughter in Melbourne today. She said the two Melbourne papers had decided against publishing the cartoons and couldn’t believe the New Zealand papers could have been so stupid. She saw the way Indonesians were treated in Melbourne after the Bali bombs and is now likely to be less open about being a kiwi. That's the reality for her. So much for freedom.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2006 10:18:00 PM

Why should people be told by the Government to "shut up for the sake of out exporters" when thopse in the Government dont have the balls to speak out against blasphemy, particularly as it is illegal. Oh yes of course, trade is much more important than the Crimes Act.

Posted by Swimming : 2/07/2006 10:50:00 PM

Muerk and anonymous: I've said this a couple of different places now and no doubt everybody's getting bored hearing it, but clearly it needs repeating: my safety (in Kuwait) is not threatened by the actions of a newspaper editor in NZ. It can only be threatened by the actions of people in this area who are so deranged that they'd attack someone over a drawing. Those people are Kuwait's responsibility, not NZ's.

If newspapers in Australia want to lie back and let the Danes do all the work of standing up for free speech, that's their sorry-ass business. Ours made a stand, and good on them. Especially good on them for not chickening out and using me as their excuse.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 2/07/2006 11:41:00 PM

What a load of codswallop! Our freedom of speech was never in danger and neither was that of the Danes. I am sick to death of all of the intellectual rationalisations for what was so clearly a provocative attack on the most revered beliefs of a religious/cultural group already under seige in Iraq and as unwelcome immigrants in European countries. If it had been Jews targetted there would be condemnation of this kind of action. Shame on all of you who defend it.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/08/2006 12:08:00 AM

Muerk: I agree its an excellent point. But that's a matter for particular editor's consciences (in addition, obviously, to those of any lunatics out there deranged enough to attack someone over a cartoon).

Adrien: if my position on this is unexpected, you haven't been reading long enough. Freedom of speech is another of my pet issues, and I take a rather strong view on it.

Craig: while Tim Pankhurst is undoubtedly more vulnerable than Helen Clark, I don't think that he has to seriously fear a revenge attack in this country. While we have loonies, there's simply not enough of them.

Anon: I agree that respecting peoples beliefs is good manners. But people are under no obligation to be polite to one another, and nor should they be. If you think the newspapers have behaved like arseholes (and I incline that way, while respecting absolutely their right to do so), then you can always let them know.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/08/2006 01:43:00 AM

Dave: the reason there's been no hint of a prosecution is because a) the law is widely believed by legal commentators to apply only to Christianity (despite there being no mention of this in the statute); b) it would not survive a BORA challenge; and c) in the current climate, no jury would convict. Oh, and d) not even the Police believe it should be on the books anymore, and so they refuse to prosecute.

You are free of course to try and bring a private prosecution. This will be expensive, and almost certainly be refused by the Solicitor-General (that was the process IIRC with the virgin in a condom). And it would almost certainly fail. But if you want to waste the money, you are free to do so.

(Incidentally, I think it would help the repeal campaign no end. But I hardly want to encourage prosecutions under an unjust law, even if they will likely lead to its repeal...)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/08/2006 01:49:00 AM

I/S We have a law. The Government and authorities should uphold the law - or the Government should change it.
They are the only two options. Not to do one or the other is hypocritical.
There is no legislative or case law to state that a person charged of blasphemy has to be Christian, is there?

Posted by Swimming : 2/08/2006 07:16:00 AM

I can't quite see where the boycotting muslims are going to get their cheese and butter from - pretty much every Western country has had the cartoons published in some form. It's a bit like us trying to boycott Saudi oil.

Posted by Rich : 2/08/2006 09:44:00 AM

Dave: I'm pushing for repeal myself.

As it stands, any prosecution by police requires the consent of the Attorney-General. The perceived chances of getting that consent (not bloody likely, even under National) will be a strong influence on whether they lay charges.

And no, there's no caselaw from New Zealand about applicability - just a widely held belief among legal commentators, government officials, and likely prosecutors.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/08/2006 12:05:00 PM

Idiot: But people are under no obligation to be polite to one another, and nor should they be

I don't think there should be a legal obligation, but I do still think that we should be polite anyway. The newspaper could have made their point without causing such great insult and would have probably furthered their cause far more than with the offensive cartoons.

No side has has advanced human understanding, they have only harmed it.

Posted by Muerk : 2/08/2006 01:27:00 PM

Muerk: I don't disagree with you at all on that. But ultimately, if people want to behave like arseholes, all we can do is tell them we don't like it and refuse to buy their newspapers.

Too much of the media debate on this has been framed as a question of the limits of freedom of speech. It's not that at all - its a question of editorial ethics, politeness, and whether they really had to be such arseholes to make their point.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/08/2006 01:52:00 PM

Craig - if you want to be concerned about the threat to your personal safety posed by rabid Muslims, well fine.
Personally I'd say you're in far greater danger of being run over crossing the road, and you'd be better placed spending energy defending yourself against that.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/08/2006 04:37:00 PM