Defence of freedom of speech makes for strange bedfellows


Dame Susan Devoy’s call in her capacity as Human Rights Commissioner and the Police calling for hate laws to be introduced have resulted in a broad coalition of prominent New Zealanders to defend the right to freedom of speech. The common freedom, which is provided for in Section 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been unnecessarily called into question of late as a result of unfortunate actions.

This defence, credible as it is, has made for some rather strange bedfellows. Politicians from across the political divide, past and present have risen to the defence of freedom of speech. When would you have otherwise expected to see Dame Tariana Turia, Dr Don Brash, Sir Geoffrey Palmer all singing from the same song sheet at the same time?

This in itself is a good thing. It acknowledges that across the board, there are people who will stand up for the right to freedom of speech.

Of course it should be noted that freedom of speech does not give the right to commit hate speech, which is something that Australia has been wrangling over. It does not give one the right to degrade or humiliate a gender, a race, nationality or other common denominator using speech.

So, I welcome the letter from these 27 different New Zealanders and note the considerable diversity of their backgrounds. For to me, it means that irrespective of ones background there is common acknowledgement that freedom of speech is a truly inalienable right. Irrespective of whether one is from China or Samoa, the United States or Nigeria all human beings have a right to freedom of speech.

As for Dame Susan, I wonder how much time she spent looking at overseas examples of where freedom of speech has come into conflict because of concerns that it is sanctioning hate speech. If she had, it might have occurred to her that the countries where hate laws exist have much deeper societal issues that need addressing, including, but not limited to institutionalized hate.

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