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Changes To Hate Speech Laws Must Uphold The Bill Of Rights Act


Commentary from David Lynch, Director Momentus
Public Relations Ltd

25 May
2021

Introduction

MP
and ACT leader David Seymour has just completed a nationwide
Free Speech Tour speaking about free speech, to counteract
the Government proposing hate speech laws.

The
Government wants to improve and amend hate speech laws, and
create new, hate-motivated offences in the wake of the March
15, 2019 terror attacks in Christchurch.

I was one of
400 people that attended David Seymour’s final address,
which was held in Christchurch on the 13 May.

I have
prepared the following commentary to encourage a wider
public discussion in defence of upholding New Zealand’s
tradition of free speech as a principle that supports the
freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their
opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship,
or legal
sanction.

Background

Labour is
promising tougher hate speech laws, which David Seymour says
will undermine our fundamental right to freedom of
expression.

He says, “Hate speech laws are
divisive and dangerous, turning debate into a popularity
contest where the majority can silence unpopular
views.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has
described the kind of language Labour would make unlawful:
‘when you see it, you know
it’.

The law change would make it a crime
to intentionally “stir up, maintain or normalise
hatred” against racial or religious groups through the use
of “threatening, abusive, or insulting”
language.

Offenders would face up to
three years in prison.

Seymour points out
that this is the danger: ‘hate speech is deeply
subjective’.

Threatening others or inciting
violence should be illegal, but something as subjective as
‘offensive’ language should never be
unlawful.

Seymour says that the Freedom of
Expression is one of the most important values our society
has.

It was with this in mind, that Seymour embarked
on his nationwide Free Speech Tour, which was aimed at
discussing how New Zealanders that shared his concerns could
push back against Labour’s hate speech laws and defend
freedom of expression.

Momentus PR
Commentary

In my professional opinion, the
survival of free speech depends on the courage of
individuals who defend it. There are many examples of this
throughout history.

Free speech is an aspect of
individual self-determination and each of us must ultimately
decide the limits we think appropriate to it. Moreover, part
of the case for free speech is that the upholding of good
shared principles itself requires people to challenge those
principles, so that they are constantly tested and kept
sharp. That applies also to the rules governing free speech
in a particular place and time.

It is understandable
that our Prime Minister might well feel disheartened that
ACT has been campaigning against the hate speech reforms
because the Government is yet to make any decisions.
However, in my opinion, ACT leader David Seymour was totally
justified with his immediate pushback, saying he was equally
“disheartened” by the Prime Minister’s suggestion his party
is not willing to engage.

Seymour is correct, when he
says: “Democracy and the ability to have civil and honest
conversations is already becoming imperilled, which is why
this is the worst possible time to empower lynch mobs who
choose to take offence at ideas they don’t
support.”

There is absolutely no argument that we
could all do better at being respectful in the way we deal
with each other. However, redefining free speech as a
criminal offence will have the opposite effect as it is
inconsistent with how New Zealand must apply its own Rules
of Law without diminishing the freedoms available to it
citizens.

Everyone has the right to freedom of
opinion and expression; this right includes freedom
to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive
and impart information and ideas through any media and
regardless of frontiers.

Freedom of speech is
a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a
community to articulate their opinions and ideas without
fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal
sanction.

The term freedom of expression is usually
used synonymously but, in legal sense, includes any activity
of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas,
regardless of the medium used.

The right to freedom of
expression is recognized as a human
right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (UDHR)
and recognized in international human
rights law in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (section 14) affirms
that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression
,
including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart
information and opinions of any kind in any form. The right
has been interpreted as including the right not to be
compelled to say certain things or to provide certain
information.”

In a speech in Parliament on the 8
December 2020, the Prime Minister promised to work with all
parties to try to close “the gaps in hate speech
legislation”.

In my opinion, it will therefore be
critically important, in the lead up to her introducing any
law change, for all New Zealanders, and in particular the
media, to hold her to account by ensuring any
changes are consistent with the Bill of Rights Act in
upholding the Right to Freedom of Expression for all
citizens.

© Scoop Media

 



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