Free speech in New Zealand

This last week in New Zealand, two politically-sensitive speakers (Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux) were blocked from their speaking tour in Auckland, New Zealand.

At the last minute their backup venue (the Powerstation) cancelled one hour before their event, breaking the legally binding contract it had with the speakers. The owners of the venue claimed they had no idea who they were until the last minute, and that they would not have booked them had they known who they were.

New Zealand’s Labour Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (who I voted for in the last election), stated: “I think [New Zealand] is hostile to their views… Look, they are here because there were no grounds to block them being here. That does not mean we welcome their views.”

What my friends thought…

A group of friends and I discussed the issue over beer and chips at the pub yesterday, when we got together at our regular catchup.

People were of various minds about the pair overall. Some supported them, some were vehemently opposed to everything they had to say.

Most had never seen their videos and didn’t know much about them. I think it would be fair to say that probably none had heard of them at all before this last month, when the media had begun to make a huge issue of their arrival in Australia and New Zealand, when both countries had caused the pair difficulty with their visas and with bookings of venues.

But here’s the thing: despite pretty brutal media coverage of the pair, almost all of my friends agreed that we should have the right to listen to whatever views we wish.

There was also almost universal condemnation among my friends of the Auckland Council and of Labour Government views that shutting them down was a good thing.

In particular, my friends were extremely annoyed about Prime Minister Ardern telling the media what Kiwis agree with politically and what we do not. They felt that she was overstepping her rights as a PM in telling the media what all of our views supposedly were.

As a rule, the general consensus was that while as individual Kiwis we might or might not agree with Molyneux and Southern, that doesn’t mean we want our government opposing them, causing them difficulties in entering the country, and making blanket statements about what New Zealanders wish to hear or what we agree with.

What I think…

I value my free speech, and my right to listen to whatever viewpoints I wish. I don’t want the government – any government – telling me what I can and cannot read, watch, see or listen to.

I can decide for myself, thank you very much!

Quite a lot of the time I deliberately listen to views I find abhorrent or ideas I disagree with – they help me clarify my own position on sensitive matters, and help me think matters through clearly.

There’s a train of thought that suggests that listening to very wrong ideas helps us understand what we truly value. I adhere to that. Visiting Communist China in the early 1980s, for example, helped me understand firsthand how wrong communism is, and how devastating bad ideology can be to an entire country.

My partner and I often discuss topical issues with our kids. We debate hot topics first from one side, then the other. That way, our kids can understand different viewpoints, and gain a better understanding of the different ways people might think.

Debating issues also helps people understand their own morality better. It arms us with basic truths and logical arguments with which we can pull faulty arguments to pieces.

By blocking Southern and Molyneux from speaking, then criticizing them without discussing why from a neutral perspective, our government has stifled free speech and debate.

It has also, incidentally, driven subscriptions for the pair’s YouTube accounts and videos skyrocketing upwards. Southern and Molyneux couldn’t have asked for better free publicity had they tried!

Free speech is fundamental to a free society. Hearing it is a fundamental right for all citizens. We don’t have to like the speech – in fact, quite often we don’t – but if we don’t defend free speech for all, we deserve free speech for none.

I was ashamed of my country this week. I hope we can do better next time.

As for Jacinda Ardern, she lost this voter. My right to free speech is something I don’t give away lightly.

Or, as we might say, free speech isn’t free.

Free speech in New Zealand
Free speech in New Zealand

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