Dita De Boni’s NBR hit-job and our response

You’ll remember last week we told you about how BusinessDesk refused to publish this column by one of their veteran journalists, Jenny Ruth.

NBR ran the column and it must have ruffled a few feathers over there because no less than 48 hours later a hit-piece on the Free Speech Union was published by NBR journalist, Dita De Boni.  

The article alleged that we are linked to the ‘international far right’ and made vague inferences about our funding sources:

Like those funding anti-gender movements, the FSU is an organisation with unknown funding sources and an alignment with international far-right and libertarian causes.

The organisation’s founder is… an alumni of the Atlas Foundation. The Atlas Network is a Washington, DC-based non-profit organisation that describes itself as working to support a growing network of more than 450 ‘free market’ organisations in more than 90 countries promoting libertarian ideas. It is funded by the likes of ExxonMobil, Philip Morris, and the Koch brothers.

Putting aside the incorrect assertion that our funding sources are “unknown” – Dita De Boni never approached us to ask – the accusation that we are linked to any organisation that can reasonably be labelled “far-right” is simply a defamatory slur. We immediately wrote to NBR to get that unfounded allegation removed from the article.  

The most she appears to have to link the Free Speech Union to anything international is an American free-market think tank called Atlas that one of our founders has received training from. She didn’t even bother to mention our collaboration with our sister group, the U.K Free Speech Union, with which we have an actual licensing agreement. 

The ridiculousness of trying to suggest that we are extremists funded by foreign conglomerates like Exxon Mobil simply reeks of desperation. Last year we had more than 4,000 individual donors financially support our work (which we safely assume is more paid subscribers than the NBR has). We would have been more than happy to share this information with Ms De Boni, but she never bothered to ask us! 

NBR did the right thing and gave us a right of reply in which we responded more fulsomely to Ms De Boni. I outlined that ‘A principled dedication to simply allow a diversity of opinions would avoid such inferences and allow for vigorous debate to lead a path forward. You may call this having a bob both ways, but impartiality and balance is essentially just that. When the alternative is name-calling and cancel culture, surely this is by far the superior option.’  

Who gets to decide what is mis/disinformation? New regulator in the works? 

An assault on all fronts is in the works, as both the Justice Select Committees interim report on the 2020 General Election, and the Annual Review of the Chief Censor’s office by the Governance and Administration Select Committee have raised and positively responded to the need for a new regulator of online material- not illegal material, problematic legal material.  

We’re hearing the terms mis and disinformation more than ever. And to be fair, widespread information that is incorrect, or malicious causes deliberately spreading information they know is false, are both serious issues. But often, these terms are being used to control conversations on issues where people simply don’t agree. 

While we should be vigilant to the effects of incorrect claims, we should also be vigilant of those who would seek to control what information can be shared, and what perspectives and opinions we’re allowed to hold. You can be assured that your humble Free Speech Union will stay on top of attempts to limit legal speech, and will keep you informed about the Government’s actions. 

That’s why we’re running our series on mis/disinformation, to hear from influential Kiwis who are working in this space, and sounding them out on the key pitfalls of regulating content. 

Mis/Disinformation series

In the second session of our 5 part series, I got the chance to sit down with Dr. David Bromell of Victoria University (and Member of the Free Speech Union) to discuss his new book: Regulating Free Speech in a Digital Age. Dr Bromell is an authority on the Christchurch Call, the move to amend hate speech laws in New Zealand, and the limitations of government censorship.

Dr. David Bromell

One of Dr. Bromell’s key points was that simply making material illegal, or prohibiting certain expression, is a lazy and counterproductive response to questions related to harmful speech.

You can go back and also watch our FBLive with Melissa Lee and Thomas Beagle on censorship in the media. After our SpeakEasy with Jacob Mchangama on Wednesday, we will have two more weeks of events. Keep your eyes out for more details soon.  

New episode of the Free Speech Union podcast 🎤

In this ‘Special Report’, Free Speech Union member Daphna Whitmore talks to previous podcast guest Rachel Stewart about cancel culture and self-censorship following her removal from a documentary on the New Zealand dairy industry over her views on a number of completely unrelated topics.

Rachel is a staunch defender of free speech. She was a columnist for the Herald and in 2016 won the Canon Media Awards for Opinion Writer of the Year. In 2019 Rachel walked away from the Herald after they refused to publish a column she wrote on Massey University cancelling a Canadian feminist speaker.  Essentially the Herald cancelled Rachel’s piece about a cancellation.

Rachel has gained more experience with cancel culture since then. She has also published on Substack a piece “Cows and Cowards” about being removed from the documentary. 

You can find us by searching for ‘Free Speech Union’ on Apple podcasts. Spotify, or wherever else good podcasts are found.

– If you’re interested in some other stories of what’s been happening with free speech, we also wrote this week in The Platform. It seems that the Human Rights Commission’s Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt can meet with Parliamentary protesters (a position the Free Speech Union defended) and can even meet with – and offer a koha to – Mongrel Mob members (ditto), yet he will draw the line at the nasty ‘ole Free Speech Union. Dane Giraud asks, what is it that makes our organisation more fearsome than the Mighty Mongrel Mob?

– You may want to read of the District Court’s decision to reverse the suspension of doctors Dr Peter Canaday and Dr Matthew Shelton for supposedly spreading misinformation related to COVID-19. Judge Stephen Harrop​ said he was satisfied that the council’s decision to suspend was not a fair, reasonable and proportionate response to patient safety or public health.

– Overseas, the judges of the Finnish Helsinki District Court dismissed all hate-speech charges against a politician and a bishop, claiming it is not ‘hate speech’ to tweet Bible verses. This is just another example where we see that attempting to protect democracy by eliminating voices that shock, offend or disturb from public discussion leaves us with an anaemic and deformed democracy. In trying to ‘protect’ certain people from the supposed violence of words, we have done violence to our public square.

So let’s build the resilience we need to be shocked, offended or disturbed once more. A truly democratic society demands nothing less.