- Date published:
3:29 pm, June 4th, 2023 - 96 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, censorship, Media, spin - Tags: freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of speech, Freedom of the press, internet freedom
Last week the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) released a consultation document entitled Safer Online Services and Media Platforms (https://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/online-content-regulation/$file/Safer-Online-Services-and-Media-Platforms-Discussion-Document-June-2023.pdf) to help making the current antiquated regulatory framework more contemporary. Given the recent rapid developments in AI tools that are available to anybody with a device that connects to the internet, this is overdue and already behind the facts – artificial intelligence is only mentioned once in the context of being a source & spreader of harmful content.
A robust constructive and respectful public debate is the only way ahead. Unfortunately, some self-proclaimed stakeholders & spokespersons have different ideas or agendas and seem hell-bent on derailing the debate before it gets off the ground.
For example, the chief executive of the Free Speech Union, who seems to oppose any & every censorship and speech regulation, wrote an opinion piece that was published by Stuff (https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/132215055/media-regulation-plan–a-censors-greatest-dream) that can be best described, with a heavy dose of irony, as an attack on mature constructive debate.
As you might expect from a chief executive of the Free Speech Union he is a master of persuasion who relies heavily on rhetoric.
He uses hyperbole and exaggerates the scope and impact of the proposed law, claiming that it will cover “pretty much everything” and that it will subject “your tweets, comments on Facebook, and waxing-lyrical on LinkedIn” to oversight by a government watchdog. He also calls the proposed structure of a regulator “a censor’s greatest dream” and implies that it will “silence certain perspectives, views or beliefs”.
He uses strawman arguments and misrepresents the proposed law and its intentions, suggesting that it is about regulating “harmful ideas that make individuals feel unsafe” and “silencing Kiwis online”. He also ignores the fact that the public consultation document states that the codes will be based on existing standards and principles, such as accuracy, fairness, balance, privacy, et cetera.
He appeals to emotion and uses emotive language and phrases to elicit fear and anger in the readers (aka scaremongering), such as “new scrutiny”, “propensity to censorship”, “reach for a bit more than they should”, “no democratic accountability”, “don’t you dare actually trust them”, “weaponised to suppress”, “inelegant solution”, and “breed suspicion and division”.
He also appeals to authority and cites his own organisation, the Free Speech Union, as a source of support for his argument, claiming that they have 80,000 supporters nationwide. He also refers to history as a justification for his scepticism of government regulation of speech although he does not specify which or what history, e.g., New Zealand history.
What irks me immensely – I consider it a lack of good faith – is that Mr Chief Executive does not provide any evidence or data to back up his claims or to counter the arguments in favour of the proposed law. He does not acknowledge any potential benefits or positive outcomes of the law, such as protecting vulnerable groups from online abuse or misinformation, or promoting responsible and ethical journalism. He also does not address any possible challenges or limitations of his preferred approach of free speech and counter-speech, such as the power imbalance between different speakers, the difficulty of reaching diverse audiences or the risk of amplifying harmful content. His opinion piece was completely void of balance and objectivity and is as one-eyed as they come.
The chief executive’s tone is dismissive, sarcastic and confrontational. He does not engage with the public consultation document in a constructive or respectful way. He does not invite dialogue or feedback from the readers or other stakeholders. He does not offer any alternative solutions or suggestions for improving the proposed law. As such, it does not meet the criteria of informed commentary. It does not contribute to a healthy and democratic debate on this important issue. In summary, and in my opinion, the chief executive of the Free Speech Union should STFU! \sarc
Although I do not want this Post to become too long, I should really try to briefly summarise some of the aims in the DIA discussion document that are part of the proposed new & modern approach to regulating online content:
The proposed new approach involves establishing a single regulator that would oversee all types of content and platforms, regardless of whether they are online or offline, domestic or international. The regulator would have powers to:
The proposed new approach would apply to all types of content that are publicly available in New Zealand, including The Standard.
In a follow-up Post, I will delve a little deeper into what all this could mean for The Standard.