Sometimes I wonder what many people think is meant by free speech. This is particularly relevant in Aotearoa New Zealand because of comments, mostly by the American right, about free speech being restricted in this country.
First let’s discus the video of the attack. I don’t know of any country that allows the distribution of child pornography, and that includes the USA. As in America, we are free to discuss the subject, and advocate for the law to become more restrictive or more liberal. But for very good reason, it is not permissible to distribute videos or images depicting children taking part in sex acts. All decent societies place some restrictions on what can be be possessed and distributed, and that includes NZ and the USA.
How countries countries handle restrictions will vary, and in Aotearoa New Zealand material can be classified as objectionable, which makes the possession and distribution of it illegal, or restricted, which places some limits (usually age) on who can possess and distribute it. The Department of Internal Affairs Website on censorship in NZ summarises objectionable material as follows:
In deciding whether a publication is objectionable, or should instead be given an unrestricted or restricted classification, consideration is given to the extent, degree and manner in which the publication describes, depicts, or deals with:
- acts of torture, the infliction of serious physical harm or acts of significant cruelty
- sexual violence or sexual coercion, or violence or coercion in association with sexual conduct
- sexual or physical conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature
- sexual conduct with or by children, or young persons, or both
- physical conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain
- exploits the nudity of children, young persons, or both
- degrades or dehumanises or demeans any person
- promotes or encourages criminal acts or acts of terrorism
- represents that members of any particular class of the public are inherently inferior to other members of the public by reason of any characteristic of members of that class being a characteristic that is a prohibited ground of discrimination specified in the Human Rights Act 1993.
I believe there is sufficient reason to classify the video as objectionable on the grounds of the last three points above. Personally I believe this video is very comparable to child porn in that it degrades, dehumanises and exploits persons. I’m more than happy that the video cannot be distributed in NZ.
Most of the criticisms of the banning claim that it was a political decision. It was not. It was classified as objectionable by the chief censor who is required to act in accordance with an act of parliament, namely the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, which was amended by the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Amendment Act 2005. It is erroneous to claim it is a clampdown by politicians or the police.
For those who are interested, you can read an abridged version of the classification decision on the Christchurch Mosque Attack Livestream. There’s a link to the full legal decision at the bottom of that document.
The terrorist’s “manifesto” has also been classified as objectionable, and here I’m a little more relaxed about whether or not it should be accessible. However the Chief Censor does give a valid reason why it should be banned. As he explains in the clip below, to most New Zealanders, it will not harm them, nor cause them to change their views, nor inspire then to commit crimes, but the document was written for a specific audience and for those people the document is likely to inspire them to carry out acts of terror. So I accept that for the time being, it is appropriate to prohibit its distribution.
There are claims that Kiwis do not have free speech. I would argue that freedom of expression is preserved in section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (BORA) which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form“. Please note the word “opinion“. I am free to express my opinion no matter how hateful it is. But I am not permitted to do harm or to incite others to do harm. That is a sign of a civilised society in my view. Others are free to disagree and say so. That is freedom
There are claims that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can be prosecuted for allowing objectionable material to pass through their networks. This claim has been made because several major ISPs blocked a small number of (hate) sites shortly after the shootings. The statement is false. The 2005 amendment specifically exempts ISPs from prosecution if objectionable material passes over their network. The original 1990 legislation was somewhat vague on this matter as the internet as we now know it didn’t exist then.
Several, but by no means all ISPs did block some sites, but that was a decision made by the ISPs themselves. There was no decree or request from the government to block specific sites. I understand most of those sites are now accessible again. May I ask how does the decision by some Internet providers to block some sites become “New Zealand authorities block free and open discussion“? If I don’t like the ethical or commercial practices of one ISP, I have more than a hundred others I can opt to use instead. Alternatively, I can simply change Name Servers or use a VPN. Neither are prohibited.
If I choose to use overseas Name Servers instead of those of my Internet provider, I am free to do so. In fact I do precisely that. I normally use OpenDNS as I like to use their filtering service – it provides more comprehensive filtering than that provided by my ISP, but this a personal choice on my part. If I so desired, I could instead use Google’s Name servers, which, I believe, have no filtering. Changing Name Servers in any web browser takes seconds, and if you don’t know how to do it, it takes only a moment of online searching to locate step by step instructions.
It is not illegal to use any Name Server of your choice, nor is it illegal to distribute instructions on how to set up your browser, or your entire home network as I have chosen to do. And claims that NZ is now some sort of authoritarian regime arresting people for expressing opinions are factually false.
If one cares to examine our freedoms and compare them to any other country, there are plenty of sources. Here’s just a few freedom indexes with the rankings of NZ and the USA for the benefit of the right wing “free speech” advocates:
Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index: NZ: 8th; US: 45th
RWB currently classifies 19 countries as Enemies of the Internet. The USA has been on the list since 2014.
Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2018: NZ: 4th; US: 25th
EUI defines NZ as a Full Democracy, and the US as a Flawed Democracy
Global Democracy Ranking 2016: NZ: 7th; US: 16th
The Human Freedom Index 2018: NZ: 1st; US: 17th
Freedom House Freedom in the World 2018: NZ: 6th; US: 51st
Polity data series (funded by the CIA): NZ: Full Democracy; US: Democracy
I’m not a Christian, but Matthew 7:3 comes to mind when dealing with these critics:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?