from the Free Speech Union

The Free Speech Union is busier than ever, with lots of opportunities across the country to stand up and speak out on the importance of free speech. Unfortunately, there are lots of battles to fight as well.

Leah Panapa and Miles Davis to be ‘re-educated’ for the ghastly belief that ‘women’ get pregnant

Talk-back radio hosts Leah Panapa and Miles Davis have found themselves in hot water with their employer, Today FM (owned by Media Works) for making the scandalous claim that Today FMusing the term “pregnant people” was “buying into bullshit”. Panapa went on to claim that “Sometimes I think this is how I’m gonna lose my job – because I would refuse to read out the words ‘pregnant people’.” Davis echoed these comments claiming, “when it comes to that we’ll sacrifice ourselves to make a point”.

Yet this ‘stick it to the m̶a̶n̶ (insert gender neutral term)’ stance changed pretty quickly, when the following day Panapa claimed the pair’s comments were “inexcusable, inappropriate and deeply offensive”, and apologised to the LGBTQIA+ community for any distress “that may have been caused”, with Davis again echoing that their discussion came from “a place of ignorance, rather than malice.” The pair will now be sent to r̶e̶-̶e̶d̶u̶c̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ training next week offered by Rainbow Tick.

I acknowledge I don’t host a talk back show- Panapa and Davis work under considerable pressure. But I can’t help but think there is more than one ‘baddie’ in this saga. Organisations like Rainbow Tick, which exert significant influence on organisations (public and private) to censure ideas or expression they don’t like are obvious villains. Mediaworks, and the team at TodayFM, who have clearly orchestrated this ‘coming-to-Jesus’ mea culpa reversal are also blatantly exerting pressure on individuals who are expressing unpopular beliefs.

Leah Panapa

But there’s more to it. When individuals like Panapa and Davis, who have a platform and voice, back down on what they believe, it makes the bullies (because lets be honest, that’s what these social censors are) feel stronger. Everyday Kiwis are then less willing to speak up, to have their voice heard. We’re all poorer because of this. We all lose when the bullies win.

It’s not ‘inclusive’ to silence others. It’s not ‘progressive’ to deny women their voice. Disagreement isn’t hate.

Free speech is a right we must defend, but it is also a responsibility we must bear. Don’t say things you believe are untrue. Be willing (courageous enough) to stand by your opinions and beliefs. Absolutely, be willing (courageous enough) to change your mind and admit when you were wrong, but don’t simply silence yourself because of others threats. The Free Speech Union exists for the very purpose of standing with those who are brave enough to use their free speech, and to encourage others to do the same. As I often say, stiffened spines stiffen spines.

The tagline of Today FM, who Panapa and Davis work for is, ‘News that Moves Us Forward’. Censorship doesn’t move us forward. In fact, it shuts done the greatest cause of progress- dialogue and debate.

Calling all free speech champions: stand with us at MFAT human rights meetings

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) will be hosting public meetings, open to everyone, in eight cities around the country in March, April and May. They are visiting different locations to hear directly from you about human rights in New Zealand. Your views will contribute to the government’s report to the United Nations, which will be reviewed by the UN’s Human Rights Council in April/May 2024 in a process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

They are visiting: Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Nelson, Rotorua, Auckland, Kaitaia and Gisborne.

Following these events, MFAT will work with other government agencies to produce a first draft of our national report. The draft report will be released online for public feedback in mid-2023 ahead of final submission to the UN in February 2024.

Our Wellington-based team were ready to attend this meeting in order to speak up against the rise of censorship and the opposition to free speech emerging in New Zealand. We then thought, ‘why attend just one meeting. With our supporters help, we could attend all of them!’ Free speech is a foundational human right on which many of our freedoms are founded. Let’s remind MFAT of that.

We are asking for Free Speech Union members and supporters who live in the cities listed above to attend these events and speak up for free speech. We will provide you with talking points and examples for you to refer to, if you’d like.

If you live in one of these 8 cities and are able to attend this event (dates and events are here), please contact us at We would like to ensure we have representatives at each meeting.

Academics labelled ‘public servants’ and told to keep quiet

The Chief Executive of Te Pūkenga, the new entity created out of a merger of New Zealand’s polytechnics and institutes of technology, has been under fire several times this week, first for claiming at academics at the mega-merger are ‘public servants’ and must remain politically neutral.

This isn’t true — not even close. Tertiary education institutions receive public funding, but that doesn’t make those working there ‘public servants’. The right to academic freedom explicitly includes the right to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas (in whatever language necessary), and even to state controversial or unpopular opinions. Naturally, this would include ideas that politicians might disagree with. Therefore, it is imperative that academics not be constrained by any requirement for ‘political neutrality’.

We are also concerned by the use of a ‘style-guide’ with a list of words Te Pūkenga staff are expected not to use. Words included The Treaty of Waitangi (it should be te Tiriti), husband or wife (it should be spouse or partner, to avoid ‘gendered language’ and even basic roles you’d expect to hear in a academic environment like… wait for it… students. Students should only be called ‘ākonga’ or ‘learners’, not students, trainees, or enrollees. There is over 30 pages of this stuff.

Even if not mandatory or enforced, such expectations indicate a culture hostile to free speech that chills the free expression of staff. The way that ideas are described and spoken is often as vital as the ideas themselves. Debates must not be pre-determined through tone-policing.

We count many academic staff among our supporters. They have impressed upon us their belief that the instructions are antithetical to their important role. We call on Te Pūkenga Chief Executive Peter Winder to withdraw his instructions for staff to be ‘politically neutral’ and rescind the speech-policing ‘style guide’. We have written to Te Pūkenga and the Minister of Education.

This is censorial overreach, and it can’t be allowed to stand. I spoke with Sean Plunkett on The Platform about this issue — you can catch the full interview here).

Green Party MPs attempting to keep gender-critical activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull out of New Zealand

We often speak about the need to have a principled position on free speech, which doesn’t take a stand on the substance of the debate, just the right to have your say. The reason we constantly say this is because the political/cultural winds can easily shift, and the speech restrictions that once favoured one’s own perspectives can be used to silence your views.

It’s all-too-easy to point to such shifting winds in history, but unfortunately then it’s just as easy to point to the flipside- when our current censors were once supposed champions for free speech. One example is the current Green Party of New Zealand.

Just recently three Green Party MPs penned an open letter to the Minister of Immigration calling on him to deny entry into New Zealand to gender-critical activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker, on the grounds of her views being allegedly transphobic. They called on Minister Michael Wood to deny her visa under Section 16 of the Immigration Act, saying she “poses a threat and risk to public order”, nevermind the fact that denying entry on the basis of her views would be a breach of the Bill of Rights Act.

By trying to prevent Kellie-Jay from even entering New Zealand, the Green MPs that signed the letter show their ideological weakness, refusing to stand on the strength of their own beliefs, rather resorting to cancellation and censorship. It is sad seeing such censorial attitudes coming from Green Party MPs today, especially when the Greens were once fervent champions for free speech.

During this debacle we came across a press release of theirs from 2004, where the Green Party stood for the right of holocaust-denier David Irving to enter New Zealand on principled free speech grounds, recognising that the best way to combat allegedly bad ideologies is to let them be publicly tested, and if necessary ridiculed. One can only hope the Greens will someday return to these roots [unlikely, the libertarian era of that party is well and truly in the past –Eds].

In response to their calls for censorship, the Free Speech Union has written to the Minister ourselves to remind him of his obligations under the Bill of Rights Act. Kellie-Jay has the right not to be discriminated against by a government minister for her views, and the Kiwis bringing her to New Zealand have the right to hear what she has to say. We’re pleased that it appears the Green’s call for censorship has fallen on deaf ears, and the Minister has not blocked Kellie-Jay Keen’s visa.*

We’re also excited to announce that while Kelle-Jay is in New Zealand we’ll be recording a filmed interview with her to understand why her views have faced so much censorship, and what having no debate means for progress today. Stay tuned!

Pushing for speech rights at the Local Government level: our submission on the Review into the Future for Local Government

Several weeks ago, we contacted you about the Review into the Future for Local Government, highlighting its censorial ‘Transparency and Moderation Statement’ which allows them to exclude from publishing any submissions they deem ‘racist’, ‘discriminatory’, or ‘insulting’. With such hot-button topics under discussion such as lowering the voting age, Māori wards, and co-governance, it is easy to see how such a policy could be hijacked to push specific narratives against what the public submits.

Nonetheless, with free speech in local government a significant area of concern, we didn’t miss the opportunity to make our voice heard on the speech rights of councillors and ratepayers. Despite the wide array of controversial ideas and debates in the Review’s draft report we kept our submissions strictly limited to free speech issues. Thankfully there’s still plenty in there for us to give feedback and recommendations on. The FSU’s submission

Kiwis must be trusted to be informed participants in democratic processes. Alleged disinformation is best combatted through a more engaged citizenry able to determine the facts themselves.

If civics education is to be implemented in schools, it should include training on critical thinking.

If elected representatives are to have professional development training, it should include education on their obligations under the Bill of Rights Act such as to protect free expression.

Council codes of conduct must protect the free speech rights of elected representatives and be prevented from being weaponised to punish councillors for their speech.

If the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act is determined to be unfit-for-purpose, it must be updated to enhance the transparency and accountability of councils.

Stewardship organisations for local councils, such as Local Government New Zealand, need to be more formalised and restrained to stop them from overreaching their roles and pushing their own political agendas on elected representatives.

Once you really get the free speech bug, it’s hard to shake. As Jacob Mchangama said about himself in our film Last Words, free speech has become ‘a bit of an obsession’ for him. Many Kiwis believe superficially in free speech, but most have never given it much thought. We’re at a time in our nation that we can’t afford to take this foundational freedom for granted anymore.

This article by Jonathan Haidt (author of The Coddling of the American Mind) is a fascinating read on research as to why censorship has exploded in the West over the past ten years, what the underlying social conditions are that are causing it, and what we can do about it. I thoroughly recommend you read it.

We also have two new podcast episodes, including one on why the Free Speech Union took the uncomfortable (and at times unpopular) position of standing for the speech rights of drag queens and Tusiata Avia. Have a listen!

The Free Speech Union is nothing but a logo on our door without the tens of thousands of Kiwis that support our work. Feel free to pass this update on to any friends or family that would be interested in our work.

Thank you for standing with us.

Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive, Free Speech Union

Media release on Te Pukenga censorship

*True to form, the Hard Left TV1 News made this the lead item in its 6 pm bulletin yesterday (viewable here) claiming that Immigration NZ officials were reviewing her entry after a small group of about 20 demonstrators “used Nazi salutes at an event in Melbourne over the weekend. And a warning our story tonight includes that footage.” You wonder how presenter Simon Dallow can utter such twaddle with a straight face.