Thursday, 2 November 2006

" atmosphere where criticising the government is becoming pretty hazardous."

The list of attacks on free speech by the Clark Government is a long one, and those listed here are just scratching the surface of incidents which, taken together, reveal their increasingly visceral hatred of the concept:
  • 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).
As Bill English said on Morning Report today (yes, even Bill can get things right occasionally), this is "all an atmosphere where criticising the government is becoming pretty hazardous."

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:

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.

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.

LINK: Political billboards - Morning Report, Radio NZ

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Free_Speech


  1. Great ad! Laughed like hell when I caught it on the late news last night.

    At least there's one smart person in the Nats. And with a sense of humour, too!

    You need one after reading through those 21 points of shame. How any of your readers can be apologists for those Stalinists is astounding.

  2. Ah. You beat me to it. I've just posted about the "chilling effect" on my new free speech blog, Section 14.

    I'll flog the morning report link tho'.

  3. Hmmm the airport is still partly owned by Wellington City Council - you might wonder what it wants out of government. Or how about Infratil, majority owner of the airport, which now also owns Stagecoach Auckland and Wellington, scared of regulation?

  4. Fantastic post, PC.

    FYI, one of the points seems to be duplicated ("attack on tax-free status of charities that criticise the Government")

  5. Just as an aside...

    I have twice commented on the blog post Kevin Tillman: Idiot over at Silent Running. And twice my comment has been removed.

    Of course, it's not my blog, and Major Scarlet is under no obligation to publish my views, but this censorship is not at all in the spirit of free speech.

    And why issue an invitation - "No Comments yet - Speak up, people!" - if there is no party?

  6. calling her an evil bitch can get yo a demotion too

  7. spell check that last post

  8. Do a post/poll on which one of the above is the most disturbing.

    My vote goes to

    "a "clamp down on the tax privileges of charitable trusts that cross an undeclared line into political advocacy";

    I consider that to be the most dangerous by far.

  9. Great post PC.

    Wellington Airport is managed by Infratil IIRC. I bet they would like the government to change its view that Whenuapai airport in Auckland should not have civilian operations based there as they have an agreement with the North Shore and Waitakere "City" councils to lobby for such an accommodation and to manage the operations.


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