Liberals and advocates of free speech are rightly berating the Bainimarama regime for threatening free speech and making a mockery of democracy, but on Labour's plans to limit free speech in election year and to ration the democracy we're allowed ("there's only so much fweedom to go awound" as Stalinist Liz Gordon used to say), they're largely silent.
Why is that? DPF has good commentary here, here and here (and good on him for that) including the observation picked up and made by Bill English in parliament yesterday, that opponents of the government are effectively barred from publishing opposition to the government at any time during election year, while the government will have full slather and the backing of the taxpayer to peddle their own election bribes. Just imagine the hoopla over the Labour's July 1 announcements this year if the same thing were to happen in election year: a whole "suite" of taxpayer funded election bribes publicised by a politicised civil service in election year while critics are forced to sit on their hands.
That's what this proposal makes possible.
Let's be blunt, this is "speech rationing" -- an affront to what is supposed to be a democracy. Speech is to be rationed precisely when it is most important to be free: in election year, and for the whole of that year. As Stephen Franks observes,
There is no more important time for free speech than during elections. That is when people must be free to try to persuade others on who should represent them. That is when the people must be free to challenge, to remind each other about, to praise and to castigate the deeds, misdeeds, attitudes and attributes of candidates and parties. The election is the peoples’ only chance to control those who will thereafter be their masters.So it does. And instead of saying so, would-be advocates of free speech such as Idiot/Savant and the Greens are bemoaning that it doesn't go far enough in barring "third party" criticism. These two cheerleaders for silence would like to bar any substantial non-taxpayer funded criticism. So much for free speech, eh?
The new Bill turns that on its head.
I've often though that limits to power might be more effectively enacted if one imagines one's political opponents in the driver's seat. I wonder how these former free speech advocates would have reacted if National had managed to dream this one up.