Friday, 24 May 2019

Insidious Creep of Political Intolerance

Don't Let Politicians Use The Law to Shut Down Speech They Don't Like

David Seymour

Since the Christchurch terrorist attack, politicians and the media have been consumed by debates over gun legislation and social media companies.
But the events of March 15 have also drawn the Government's attention to an issue that could have much deeper implications for every New Zealander: whether we need new laws to restrict so-called "hate speech" from being used against particular groups.
On Wednesday, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman claimed hate speech leads directly to violence. That's a tenuous argument.
Even Helen Clark, who argues for tougher hate speech laws, admits protecting religion from hate speech wouldn't have prevented the Christchurch attack. Her foundation's report says "it is difficult to establish a causal link between online hate speech and violence".
Another argument advanced by Ghahraman is that hate speech can be objectively defined. That's not true. Where the line between fair criticism and hate speech lies can only depend on opinion.
Professor Paul Moon, of the Auckland University of Technology, believes no country has been able to clearly define hate speech.
This means citizens don't know where the "boundary of the criminality of speech begins" and start to self-censor. Hate speech laws have a chilling effect.
Ghahraman and Clark do agree when it comes to the German model of regulating social media. Under the Network Enforcement Act, companies face fines of up to $80 million if they fail to remove harmful content quickly.  Human Rights Watch has said the law is "vague, overbroad, and turns private companies into overzealous censors". The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression said the law was at odds with international human rights standards.
This is not a model we want to emulate.
Finally, Ghahraman says we should protect religion under the Human Rights Act.
But it isn't obvious that religion should be treated in the same way as something like race. Race is an immutable characteristic, whereas religion is a set of ideas. Including religion in the Human Rights Act won't reduce violence, but it could restrict debate about, and criticism of, religion.
Green Party justice and human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman argues that hate speech leads to extremism and violence. Seymour believes that is a tenuous argument.
Green PaGolriz Ghahraman argues that hate speech leads to extremism and violence. Seymour believes that is a tenuous argument.
Why is it so important we push back against attempts to restrict free speech?
Freedom of expression has an inherent value. We each experience life in our own unique way, but what's the point if we can't tell anyone about it? Respecting the autonomy of rational, moral beings requires that we allow them to express themselves freely.
From this inherent value comes a practical value. Would suffragettes or anti-Springbok tour protesters have been successful if they hadn't been allowed to make statements that were considered hateful by others?
Usually opinions are met by other opinions, but under hate speech laws they are met by the power of the state. Citizens can only hope their opinions are in favour with the government.
The United Kingdom has gone down this path. Earlier this year, a woman was thrown in jail for seven hours after she referred to a transgender woman as a man on Twitter.  A couple of weeks ago, Jacinda Ardern was asked what speech her Government would target. She replied: "When you see it, you know it." This is the danger. Hate speech is deeply subjective.  [Emphasis, ours]
Our Harmful Digital Communications Act and Human Rights Act already use tests as subjective as giving "offence" or being "insulting". We need to expunge the law of such restrictions.
Freedom of expression needs to be strengthened, not weakened. We must make it clear that it is a fundamental value.  This is a critical moment for freedom. Politicians and others want to use Christchurch as an excuse to shut down speech they don't like, knowing a majority might let them.
New Zealanders must push back against any attempts to further undermine this fundamental right.

The Dominion Post

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