OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: On Freedom of Speech

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  • Martin Lindberg,

    It seems there are some people disappointed that the Government has not congratulated the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - basically kowtowing to China. I don't see how our kowtowing to India by officially apologising for something over which the Government has (and should have) no control is all that different.

    Quite. The Norwegian government is not likely to apologise to China for the Nobel Committee's decision. Their government is not responsible for that decision any more than the NZ government is responsible for Paul Henry's moronic comments.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Mike Graham,

    To be fair, John Key didn't want to congratulate the Nobel Peace Prize winner as he hadn't been briefed

    You also have to ask why MFAT hadn't prepared briefings on the nominees prior to the announcement of the winner, or are all the staff working on McCully's destruction of our aid budget?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 202 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This is awesome. I think I'm growing. :)

    Awww, nice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18960 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    To be fair, John Key didn't want to congratulate the Nobel Peace Prize winner as he hadn't been briefed. Which is fair enough- you never know what kind of scoundrel this person might be.

    Will Liu Xiaobo increase the rate which the CIA carries out bombing runs against Pakistani villagers? Will Liu Xiaobo maintain a military detention centre with prisoners in legal limbo? Will Liu Xiaobo sell $billions worth of advanced weapon systems into the world's hotspots?

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    The Nobel Peace Prize was announced on Friday, October 8.

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2010/press.html

    So let's say October 9, NZ time. Saturday morning.

    The Prime Minister was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

    In between, he found the time to appear on "This is Your Life", go to Eden Park, and probably other places with television cameras.

    We are not talking about the winner of the Central Slovenian Synchronised Swimming Championships. The Nobel Peace Prize is headline news all over the world, and there had already been official reaction from France, Germany, USA, UK, Australia ... probably from the Central Slovenia Swimming Club, for that matter.

    But ... our Prime Minister wasn't briefed.

    If he hadn't been told, over nearly three whole days, then we have the world's slowest officials. They must live in the 1950's.

    If he had been told and didn't care, so much the worse.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 782 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    And if I stood up in front of a Great Blend crowd and was an offensive twatcock -- or even just pissed people off by being rubbish and boring -- I wouldn't see Orcon coming back with its sponsor's chequebook next time.

    To extend that analogy,
    if you had no idea that what you said was offensive
    and if your sponsor had no idea that what you said was offensive,
    then feedback to both the speaker and the sponsor is relevant and part of the free speech process.

    And as always the sponsor is free to assess the validity and relevance of the feedback. That is essentially what folks did by complaining to PHs employers and the advertisers and the BSA.

    And for what it's worth I haven't heard Russell be either a twatcock or boring. I wonder which is worse...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3414 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    if you had no idea that what you said was offensive
    and if your sponsor had no idea that what you said was offensive,

    That's the thing, well for me anyway. They had no idea!
    If your going to be offensive.....own it, I suppose...
    I've got to think about it now.
    'sscuse me.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1227 posts Report Reply

  • Julie Fairey,

    I hope this doesn't count as a derail, but I'm genuinely interested in the narrative that what Henry said was partly not ok because he was on TVNZ, the state-owned broadcaster.

    So would it have been ok if Oliver Driver had said it on Sunrise? (in a hypothetical world where Oliver Driver was a dick of the magnitude of Paul Henry and Sunrise still existed, of course)

    Orcland • Since Dec 2007 • 217 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    if you had no idea that what you said was offensive

    then you are probably not the best person to be ad-libbing in front of the nation.

    Julie- I would say that TVNZ is perceived as representing the country (more so than TV3), because of its name, history, and apparent links to the government. I also think this is more perception than reality.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 896 posts Report Reply

  • Abe Stevens,

    And it's worth thinking about why we would applaud Ben Gracewood or Paul Yandall quitting on principle after the hosts they worked with said offensive things -- but not be comfortable when the sponsor that helps pay the most does the same thing.

    I guess that's because Ben did it out of principle and I assume (tho could be wrong) a sponsor would do it for financial reasons.

    Are people really not comfortable when sponsors pull out?

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    ...a battle that is not, let's remember, on a level playing field. Ordinary consumers cannot speak back to Paul Henry on the same level that he gets to speak to them. That's one of my problems with pure Free Speech arguments; they tend to assume that everyone has the same power to speak and to be heard.

    Thank you, Emma. It amazes me to see people going on about "speech" as if it's separable from action - and somehow immune from the politics of access to infrastructure, resources and power that enable both. We heard the same willful ignorance over the wealthy Brethren and the resulting Electoral Finance Act restrictions that got some knickers all atwist.

    Free speech is not a "right" that exists in a vacuum. Like all rights it is balanced against others. You can not do or say whatever you please without consequences.

    Even bullies recognise that by never picking on rich white business men or athletes who might retaliate. It's true that dimwits like Henry might get themselves confused when targets combine say dark skin with being migrant doctors or heads of state.

    Access to a powerful megaphone like television brings responsiblities, some in the form of conditions set out in the Broadcasting Act. These supposedly include a clear responsiblity not to denigrate or ridicule groups of people who have traditionally been the subject of bullying and social discrimination.

    Those people have a right to go about their lives without being subjected to useless harrassment and unfair action prompted by bullying words. History shows us perfectly well how groups of humans act towards one another, hence such laws that balance the rights and responsbilities between us.

    Yet TVNZ chose to thumb their nose at those obligations and gamed the resulting complaints time and time again to defend the attention and earnings their tame twatcock brought them. The BSA waved a wet bus ticket. The PM grinned and like most other media and political 'leaders' played along.

    Well it's time to pay up. For the privileged and their sycophants to stop whining about how unfair that is. And for a principled national conversation to put right the damage to race relations that has been allowed in our names. We all deserve that.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16746 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I hope this doesn't count as a derail, but I'm genuinely interested in the narrative that what Henry said was partly not ok because he was on TVNZ, the state-owned broadcaster.

    So would it have been ok if Oliver Driver had said it on Sunrise? (in a hypothetical world where Oliver Driver was a dick of the magnitude of Paul Henry and Sunrise still existed, of course)

    These two things are mutually exclusive, though, right? I mean yes, what Henry said was partly not ok because he was on TVNZ, and yes, it would still have been appalling if somebody had said it on the non-public airwaves. That's why we have broadcasting standards. But it makes perfect sense to hold the public broadcasters to a further and higher standard, I think, for they have a special responsibility to represent us.

    I'd like broadcasting standards to have more of a bite because I'm not especially partial to sponsor boycotts - essentially in that they give people with more purchasing power more of a say. And unlike a BSA complaint they are not judged on merit, but purely on effectiveness of the campaign, so as Graeme says an organised group of bigots can be more effective than a group with legitimate concerns.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7383 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Free speech on TVNZ? I was under the impression that it had become strictly commercial.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2751 posts Report Reply

  • Julie Fairey,

    Good point Gio, it isn't mutually exclusive and it is ok to have a higher standard. I've just been perturbed how many people I have seen making the argument "my tax dollars shall not pay for this", as if that is the only or even the best argument.

    I'm sure I read or perhaps heard somewhere in all the debate over the last week that our BSA system hasn't been reviewed in over 20 years, does anyone know if that's correct? Seems like perhaps it's time?

    Orcland • Since Dec 2007 • 217 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    If I understand Graeme's point correctly, he's just saying that abuse is not a statement of an idea. I don't think he's saying that means it's not ever justified.

    I guess you get finicky about these things as a lawyer. You can't really use "PH is a @$%#" as a point in a courtroom. It would be struck from the record and you'd probably get threatened by the judge.

    I'm not so sure outside of a court whether it's so clear. Rules of argumentative engagement are just different. For instance, if a bully is calling you names, yes, they're being illogical and offensive, but failing to stand up to them just on account of that is simply weak and will encourage them, in a lot of cases. Sometimes it's much better to use peer pressure, something that's not exactly rational either, to get them to stop. Cast them in a bad light. Make some cutting comment that puts them in fear of social ostracism. In the circumstances, it's often justified.

    Sure, free speech is the loser in this kind of scenario, but I doubt the bully was all about free speech.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8586 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Ben: I'd just seen it as focusing too heavily on the purity of a metaphor which was ultimately made up by a guy with a stick up his arse, who thought that arguments were polite things you had at dinner parties (or at least, the participants ought to behave like they were). But real arguments in the real world aren't like that. Quite apart from being rather more robust than a courtroom or a dinner party, on any serious dispute they stem not from faulty reasoning (which two rational individuals could uncover and correct), but from incompatible axioms (which are, by definition, not amenable to rational argument, otherwise they wouldn't be axioms). And when that happens, you really have nothing to say to each other, so you might as well call a cunt a cunt...

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1643 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    And when that happens, you really have nothing to say to each other, so you might as well call a cunt a cunt...

    So it really is a case of stop wanking, you cocksuckers.
    Thank you. Thought so.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3553 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    Can there be such a thing as pure freedom? Pure freedom of speech? We have censorship; swear words are bleeped out in prime-time. We can’t commit slander.

    I suppose there can be “pure freedom of speech” if it is defined as the absence of those things. There’s no reason we couldn’t dispense with censorship and defamation laws. But even if we did, it wouldn’t make any difference in this case. Henry didn’t lose his job because he breeched censorship laws. He lost his job in effect because of the amount of criticism he and TVNZ received, and possibly because people freely expressed their intention to boycott TVNZ and their sponsors/advertisers.

    And it's worth thinking about why we would applaud Ben Gracewood or Paul Yandall quitting on principle after the hosts they worked with said offensive things -- but not be comfortable when the sponsor that helps pay the most does the same thing.

    I guess that's because Ben did it out of principle and I assume (tho could be wrong) a sponsor would do it for financial reasons.

    Yeah. Ben didn’t wait until he could gage the reaction of the country over the remarks. How many sponsors were going to pull out regardless of what feedback they were getting?

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    But real arguments in the real world aren't like that. Quite apart from being rather more robust than a courtroom or a dinner party, on any serious dispute they stem not from faulty reasoning (which two rational individuals could uncover and correct), but from incompatible axioms (which are, by definition, not amenable to rational argument, otherwise they wouldn't be axioms). And when that happens, you really have nothing to say to each other, so you might as well call a cunt a cunt...

    ...and commence firing.

    Or we could talk about it some more, maybe so called axioms will diffuse over time.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Yeah. Ben didn’t wait until he could gage the reaction of the country over the remarks.

    The timeline is fuzzy to me at this point, but Ben was the absolute first to step up and say "It's not OK", without test-polling or fear of consequences, right? Not a premeditated media-friendly campaign of any sort, either, just a gut-reaction judgement call of standing up and walking away from the table and quietly explaining why.

    I'm still kind of in awe about that. My cool brother! Outrocks the PM!

    Because, you know, there's an alternative universe in which TVNZ's spokespeople were the first to hit the presses, with a statement of "It's not OK -- and we've given him a written warning." In which case, they'd have had it both ways. Instead, they placed a huge bet the other way, and in sheer ownership-of-the-moral-high(and common)-ground PR terms, they missed the boat by a nautical mile.

    Likewise, there's an alternative universe in which John Key fronted up immediately about being "uncomfortable with the tenor of that particular conversation," or whatever. If he's OK with vasectomy-chat, surely he can be blunt about other stuff that matters?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Julie Fairey,

    Ah but the vasectomy comment was made to deflect questions on something Key was uncomfortable about, being held accountable for massive cuts to early childhood education funding.

    But I digress.

    Orcland • Since Dec 2007 • 217 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I'm still kind of in awe about that. My cool brother! Outrocks the PM!

    But has Ben congratulated Liu Xiaobo yet? I don't see evidence of it on his blog. How long must we be kept waiting?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7383 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'd just seen it as focusing too heavily on the purity of a metaphor which was ultimately made up by a guy with a stick up his arse, who thought that arguments were polite things you had at dinner parties (or at least, the participants ought to behave like they were).

    They're also polite things we have on PAS too, and I don't think saying one of the other commentators has a stick up their arse is warranted. He's just trying to make a point about making points, and abusing him because he can be misrepresented as apologizing for Paul Henry, is actually very much playing into the point he was making, that once you start claiming that abuse is a point, there's no end to it, abuse is all that's left, and the "marketplace of ideas" becomes a farce. Does this thread really need to go Kiwiblog?

    But I'm pretty sure that was actually some of Keith's point in even pursuing this line. If Paul Henry abusing someone can be held up as a point, then abusing Paul Henry can be too. It was a reductio ad absurdum on the "free speech has been damaged" line. Graeme was just trying to straighten the point out - because the reductio is a valid criticism, that means the negation of the point holds - Paul Henry abusing someone is not a point, and nor is abusing Paul Henry. It's an ad hominem attack, an invalid line of argument.

    That does not mean that ad hominem should never be used, nor do I think that Graeme was saying that. He was merely trying to make it crystal clear that it's not an argument, any more than many other informal fallacies would be. If PH said something like that to my face about me at a dinner party, however polite, I expect that some form of ad baculum (like standing up in a threatening way and talking extremely loudly about how offensive I found it) would be quite normal, which is part of the reason PH doesn't do that - bullies are usually cowards, and I've never even seen him take on someone with a sharp tongue, much less a sharp eating implement in their hand.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8586 posts Report Reply

  • st ephen,

    Or we could talk about it some more, maybe so called axioms will diffuse over time.

    You think? Check out today's 'race row' story about the fair-haired, fair-skinned Miss IndiaNZ winner. Her father is Fijian-Indian, her mother is reported to be... a New Zealander.

    I'd say any 'teaching moments' have flown by the press, let alone the bigots.

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 204 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    Ah but the vasectomy comment was made to deflect questions on something Key was uncomfortable about, being held accountable for massive cuts to early childhood education funding.

    Thank you Julie . I'm not insane. We spend so much election time in tears about education and how much our kids need it, then the policy comes up 12 months after,it's totally the opposite of electoral rheteoric....
    and the sweet bored press get totally infactuated and giggly with his testicles and forget totally about the CUTTING OF EDUCATION FUNDS.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

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