PM on free speech: confused, misleading, or dangerous?

Tue, 30 Apr, 2019

The Prime Minister’s interview on the AM Show this morning raised more questions than it answered in relation to her Government’s position on freedom of expression, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Jacinda Ardern said her Government was focussed on restricting speech that would likely lead to harm or violence against others.

“That’s either confused or misleading, because inciting a person to commit violence is already an offence under the Crimes Act 1961.

“The PM went on to say the Government would target ‘examples where when you see it, you know it’.

“This is the danger of hate speech legislation – it is deeply subjective.

“For example, the Human Rights Act says you cannot publish statements that are ‘insulting’ if they excite hostility or contempt towards an ethnic group. Similarly, the Harmful Digital Communications Act says a ‘digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person.’

“Tests as subjective as being offensive or insulting should never be used to prosecute offences.

“But it appears the Government is now committed to adding to the current law.

“Freedom of expression needs to be strengthened, not weakened, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

“We need to expunge the law books of subjective restrictions on freedom of expression and make it clear that it is a critical value.

“Treating people with dignity and respect requires they be allowed to express themselves freely.

“We cannot solve our most pressing problems if we are not able to try new ideas, discard those that don’t work, and seek out better ones. That can only be achieved in an open society in which free thought and open enquiry are encouraged.”