"...an atmosphere where criticising the government is becoming pretty hazardous."
- for the first time in 103 years, a crown-owned company fined for "contempt of parliament";
- a Select Committee chairmen tearing up letters from Committee members who raise serious concerns;
- a conviction for sedition for protesting the passing of the Foreshore and Seabed Act;
- the 'crime' of "bringing Parliament into disrepute" still on the books;
- TVNZ’s Board being hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee during the Ian Fraser affair;
- Commerce Commission prosecution of Air New Zealand for highlighting the high cost of government levies to travellers in their ticket prices;
- Attacking those who criticise the Clark Government of corruption -- "Allegations of corruption are intolerable in a Western liberal democracy," declared a hyperbolic Helen Clark. And as one blogger reminded her, "No, Miss Clark. Corruption is intolerable. When allegations of corruption are intolerable, it's no longer a Western liberal democracy");
- an attack by Helen Clark on the Dominion Post and The Press for printing the Mohammed cartoons;
- a threat by Michael Cullen to land the Herald with "a very large tax bill" if criticism of the Clark Government didn't cease;
- an attack by Helen Clark on Fran O'Sullivan for her criticism of what Fran called "ramming through legislation under urgency to retrospectively legalise the unlawful raid on parliamentary funds";
- "Taking away the Exclusive Brethren's employment law loophole because they spent $1.2 million campaigning against the Greens and the Clark Government";
- praising loudly "the measures the British Labour Government has imposed to curb press freedoms";
- moving to "toughen up the Press Council" when it comes to dealing with a local media that is just doing its job;
- restrictions on liquor, pharmaceuticals, and fast food advertising;
- the Electricity Commissioner removed from office because, says the former Commissioner, “I stood up to the government as an independent regulator should”;
- bullying of the Auditor General over the last few months for criticising the Government;
- long and prolonged attacks on a religious sect for daring to criticise the Government;
- a "clamp down on the tax privileges of charitable trusts that cross an undeclared line into political advocacy";
- moving to prevent third-party criticism of Government during an election;
- moving to ban anonymous donations to political parties;
- moving to institute state-funding of political parties (these last three, taken together, being a form of speech-rationing).
And it is in this highly-charged atmosphere -- one in which free speech is rapidly becoming a privilege instead of a right -- that the decision of Wellington Airport to refuse to display this billboard below has been taken [Hat tip Darnton V Clark]. "Too politically sensitive," the airport management apparently said when presented with the ad.
In the current "atmosphere where criticising the government is becoming pretty hazardous,"you really have to commend the bravery of the other two airports which have chosen to run with the billboard. Look out for attacks very soon on the management and running of Auckland and Christchurch airports.
UPDATE: Bernard Darnton's Section 14 blog has this to say:
Ain't that the truth. When the application of so many laws and regulations involves the exercising of "discretionary powers" by authorities, then appeasement of authority becomes a habit.
The Dominion Post suggests that the reason for the refusal may be that the Airport is concerned about the Government’s pending decision on the Qantas/Air New Zealand codeshare agreement, which could cut flights to the capital and hence cut airport profits.
A chilling effect is the self-censorship that occurs when someone fears the actions of another. A newspaper declining to print a cartoon not because it isn’t news but because it fears reprisals from medieval thugs would be one example.
In this case the Government has the power to make decisions that could negatively affect the running of the Airport. The Clark Government has a history of being vindictive and so the Airport might rightly fear them and censor themselves in the hopes of getting the “right” decision from Pete Hodgson. An air of fear can sometimes be more effective than explicit censorship laws, and it’s certainly more stealthy.
LINK: Political billboards - Morning Report, Radio NZ
RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Free_Speech