Free speech slowly being stifled…by the Press Council

Released just before Christmas, the Press Council announces that it surrenders to social justice bullies with hurty feelings:

In a close decision, 5-4, the Press Council has upheld a complaint against the Duncan Garner column, Dear New Zealand, how do we want to look in 20 years?, published on October 7. The column commented on immigration policy and population planning.

Complaining under Principle 7, Eliza Prestidge Oldfield argued that the article refers to a group of immigrants and suggests that immigration is a concern because the migrants are from those countries.

She points out that if the article wanted to avoid a racist subtext particular minority groups should not have been singled out.

She also argued a breach of Principle 1 Accuracy and 4, Comment and Fact in relation to the use of statistics in the column.

In response, the editor noted that the column was opinion, clearly labelled as such and that they had published a reply piece from Dame Susan Devoy and a number of letters with a diverse range of views.

It was an opinion piece, but it seems now that some opinions must be blocked, banned and hidden, only approved speech can be tolerated…and this from the Press Council who should be up-holding freedom of speech as a central tenet of the organisation.

Majority opinion of Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten and Marie Shroff

Mr Garner appears to offer the “fact” that New Zealand’s population is growing because of South East Asian immigration. The actual drivers of population growth are more complex than that. It is only in the last three years that India and China were the top two countries of origin for New Zealand migrants, and in any event, these countries are not generally included in the popular understanding of “South East Asia”.

Before that the United Kingdom topped all figures. While the Asian population in New Zealand is the fastest growing (up 33 percent from the 2006 to 2013 census), it still only represents 12 percent of the total population, and not all those of Asian ethnicity are migrants. Population growth can also be driven by New Zealanders returning from overseas or deciding not to migrate. Conflating migration and refugees is also unhelpful.

In addition, Mr Garner singles out migrants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, countries which are the source of relatively few migrants. The immediate juxtaposition of the figure of 72 000 [migrants] with the singled out groups amounts to misleading the reader on a factual issue. In presenting the data as he did, Mr Garner has inaccurately targeted a group of migrants in a way that leads the reader to infer that these groups are driving the poor outcomes for all New Zealanders that Mr Garner outlines. The complaint under Principle 4 is upheld.

The Press Council acknowledges and agrees that minority groups, race and colour are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and the discussion is in the public interest. However, there should not be gratuitous emphasis on any such category. In this case, the column was directed at immigration and the consequences of uncontrolled population growth. The arguments are not advanced or aided in any way by singling out certain ethnic or national groups. That certain ethnic groups were singled out and some of these are groups do not provide large numbers of migrants is of most concern. Despite the writer’s protestations to the contrary, his approach can only be seen as gratuitous racism, especially when linked with the description of New Zealand’s future as nightmarish.

The Council members upholding the complaint, paid due consideration to freedom of expression as discussed in previous cases and concluded that this case went beyond what they deemed acceptable. The complaint under Principle 7 is also upheld.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. They are saying you can’t have a discussion now, in case some one gets hurty feelings.

Minority Dissent of Sir John Hansen, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and John Roughan

Four members of the Press Council would not have upheld the complaint. In their view the column, while unpleasant, did not overstep the boundaries established by the Council’s principles and previous decisions regarding expressions of opinion on subjects involving race. They noted the Council is reluctant to limit freedom of expressions of opinion on any subject and its principles and rulings allow ethnic issues to be debated so long as the references to race are not gratuitous and do not ascribe adverse characteristics or behaviour to an entire racial group. (See cases 2253 and 2260).

The columnist in this case was expressing concern about the ethnic diversity of New Zealand’s high immigration over recent years. He singled out several nationalities as those he thought he recognised in a shopping queue. While these groups were not a large component of New Zealand’s immigration, he was using them as an example of “the changing face of New Zealand”. In this context, the references to ethnic groups were not inaccurate or gratuitous in the minority’s view and he was not ascribing any characteristics to them.

The columnist did not explain why he was concerned at the ethnic diversity as well as the scale of immigration in recent years, and the clear implication that this did not need to be explained gave the column an unpleasant “dogwhistle” odour. But this sort of opinion is best challenged, in the minority’s view, by open debate rather than objections to its expression.

The Council has long stressed the safe guarding of “freedom of expression” in relation to opinion pieces.

We find it impossible to distinguish this case from Toailoa also decided by the Council at this meeting. In that case the Council unanimously declined to uphold a similar complaint against an opinion piece.

The full Press Council decision is here.

You won’t find me and Tim Watkin on the same page very often. Which is ironic because Tim Watkin was donkey deep involved in trying to shut down my freedom of speech with Dirty Politics.

It is decisions like this that make the Press Council irrelevant. It is used as a bully pulpit by social justice bullies trying to prove a point. When I was a member of OMSA, before it merged with the Press Council I thought it would be a good idea to belong, that was until an orchestrated set of complaints were piled up against me, also ironically, one by Tim Watkin.

The Press Council should be fighting for freedom of speech not stifling it.

 

-Fairfax


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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