Written By: - Date published: 8:46 am, June 26th, 2015 - 76 comments
Categories: act, blogs, internet, law - Tags: act, censorship, credit where it's due, criticism where it's due, free speech, Harmful Digital Communications Bill, stifling dissent
National’s Harmful Digital Communications Bill may have had some genuinely well intentioned goals, but some clauses are too broad. It can be interpreted as criminalising any criticism of the government online. In its current form it should be opposed.
Not a phrase I have cause to write very often, but bravo to ACT:
ACT breaks ranks on cyber bullying Bill
ACT has broken ranks and withdrawn support for a Government Bill that cracks down on cyber bullies and internet harassment.
The Bill has passed its committee stage and has to pass its third reading before it becomes law, Radio New Zealand reported.
Party leader and sole MP David Seymour says it’s too broad and ordinary internet users could fall foul of its provisions.
Mr Seymour has a support agreement with the Government and usually supports legislation, but says this Bill goes too far. … “We are left with an overly broad, unenforceable piece of legislation which countless ordinary people could inadvertently breach every day,” he said.
Tim Watkin at Pundit has already set it all out much better than I could:
Je ne suis pas Charlie say NZ MPs: eroding free speech
New Zealand MPs are so keen to be seen to be “doing something” about cyber-bullying that they are about to pass a poor piece of law that will do something terrible.
The way the bill works, is that if you feel something posted online is causing you harm – defined vaguely as “serious emotional distress” – you contact the webhost and demand the offending item be taken down. … if a distressed person isn’t happy with the host’s actions, they can go to an “approved agency” and then onto the courts. So will the Facebooks, news media and blogs of this world stick to existing processes and risk criminal conviction? Or will they take the easy road and just pull things offline?
Yes, I include news media in that list because there’s no exemption for news and current affairs under this bill and no defence of truth; investigative journalists can be labelled bullies as easily as bad-mouthed teens or roasters. Or satirists or cartoonists, for that matter.
If a current affairs investigation into a dodgy finance company offends that financier or his family… if a Fair Go report distresses some con man… or if a cartoon emotionally harms a pious soul, they now can use the law to ask for the offending item to be taken offline.
Now, perhaps news sites will hold the line. Perhaps the courts, when the case finally gets there, will defend journalism, satire and the like. Perhaps. Perhaps. But the bill is silent on these concerns.
So it’s either stupid politics or cynical politics. You can decide which. Either way, exercising your right to free speech in New Zealand is just about to get a bit harder.
Labour, Greens – what are you doing supporting this badly drafted and damaging bill? Please reconsider.
Update: The report I saw said Labour and Greens were supporting the bill, but in comments TRP writes:
Labour voted against the Bill at the second reading and proposed amendments which were voted down in the house. One of Labour’s proposed changes was supported by ACT, another by NZ First. The Greens went with National in voting down the amendments.
ACT is not the only party “standing up for free speech”. Indeed, it’s not even clear that “free speech” has anything to do with ACT’s position and David Seymour did not use the phrase in his speeches on his own amendment. However, in their speeches supporting the ACT amendment, Labour did specifically talk about the affect on free speech.
The headline is fundamentally incorrect. Labour voted in favour of the ACT amendment. They were the only party to do so, other than ACT. But, like all other parties but ACT, they also supported the other changes that were made to the Bill at select committee, which improved some aspects of the original bill. ACT actually voted against the improvements.
Hopefully the bill will be further amended before it’s third reading. I know Labour have not given up trying to soften the potentially negative impacts on free speech, but they, like all MP’s except David Seymour, also recognise that cyber bullying will be finally recognised as the scourge it is and appropriately criminalised.