Legislating against hate speech sounds like a bad idea

hate speech

It would be a tragedy for this country if, influenced by overseas excesses, we were to legislate for hate speech. Such legislation could have a chilling effect on debate here on all manner of issues, says former Attorney General Chris Finlayson.

Yet that’s exactly what’s likely to happen.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan says she will be making announcements on hate speech by the end of this year.

“I guarantee that I’ll be introducing a law that I intend to have concluded and put into law by the next election.”

What the law will entail remains to be seen.

Finlayson has some words of warning about the possibility of such legislation being passed.

“I am not confident the authorities would take a strong stand to prosecute only the most serious and obvious cases. They would probably kick for touch and leave it to the courts to decide.”

He suggests the most effective way of rebutting positions you disagree with is to master the arguments of your opponents and engage in a robust and civil debate.

“May the best person win the argument,” he says. “It is contrary to fundamental principles of freedom of expression and to a liberal democracy to have a law that could stop the full and frank exchange of views.”

Bob McCoskrie of Family First is also concerned about the possibility of hate speech legislation being passed.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, he indicates.

Rather, he says it’s vital that families and faith communities understand what is really at stake with these proposals.

“Make no mistake – political activists and special interest groups will miss the important distinction between hate speech, and merely speech they hate, and end up using such laws as tools of political intimidation to punish opponents and shut down debate in the marketplace of ideas,” McCoskrie says.

Freelance blogger and journalist Karl du Fresne is also concerned about the prospect of hate speech legislation. He cites advice from Jacob Mchangama, a Danish lawyer, human rights advocate and author who spoke at the Free Speech Union conference in Auckland last Saturday.

“One of his key points was that historically, free speech has been a vital tool for the oppressed,” du Fresne reports.

However, du Fresne says he’s disappointed that there were so few journalists at the conference.

One, the editor of a high-profile national publication, was there to observe rather than report,  he says.

A freelancer, Yvonne van Dongen, told the conference about the extraordinary obstacles, excuses and deceptions she encountered despite her well-established credentials when she tried to get an article published about the free speech debate.

“No one who heard van Dongen’s account of her travails … could delude themselves that the mainstream media can be regarded as allies in the campaign for free speech,” du Fresne says.

This perception was reinforced by the fact that although Jacob Mchangama was interviewed on RNZ by Kim Hill, not a word appeared in the mainstream media about the conference.



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News category: New Zealand, Palmerston.

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