Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beenie Man and freedom of speech

The Big Day Out has invited Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man to perform next year. The man is a notorious homophobe, whose music calls for the murder and extermination of gays and lesbians, and as a result he has been disinvited from several overseas events, including the 2004 MTV Music Awards. So I'm completely in support of Green MP Kevin Hague's call for the Big Day Out to withdraw its invitation; decent people simply do not provide a platform for these sorts of bigots, let alone pay them to spread their hate. And if the Big Day Out wants to associate its brand with such bigotry, then they will suffer the commercial consequences.

Where I get off is banning people from entering the country, as Charles Chauvel has demanded. I take it as axiomatic that the government should not be discriminating against potential visitors on the basis of their beliefs. Neither should it be attempting to censor people by denying them entry. In case Chauvel has forgotten, we are a country which supposedly respects freedom of speech. And that liberty applies to people we disagree with as well as those we like. The widely accepted limit on freedom of speech is "shouting fire in a crowded theatre". While Beenie man's music is hateful, like David Irving's, it simply does not reach that standard. I am not denying the social consequences of his hate, but they are far too distributed and distant to provide a justification for censorship.

The answer to speech we disagree with is more speech, not less. If Beenie Man makes it to New Zealand, he should be met with protests. Journalists should challenge his views, and make it clear that they are not acceptable in a civilised society. And if he performs at the Big Day Out, the audience should simply leave. Being greeted with an empty room would eloquently show our disgust at this bigoted homophobe.