Don’t let NZ bureaucrats get away with political censorship

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powershopmao_460x230I don’t usually welcome being bombarded by commercial advertising but I was pleased this week to see Powershop’s “Chairman Mao’s Gangnam Style” posters plastered all over Auckland City.

It was a justified Powershop response to Auckland Transport’s banning of the energy company’s satirical posters from its bus stop advertising.

Auckland Transport’s Sharon Hunter was worried that the advertisement “may potentially cause offence to Auckland’s Chinese population.”

Is Sharon Hunter trying to say Auckland’s Chinese don’t have a sense of humour? How very patronising? In fact, the theme of a satire would resonate with the many Chinese New Zealanders not enamoured with the regimentation of the Mao period. They would identify with the “gangnam-style dancing” sendup. The subtext of the ad’s slogan, “Same Power – Different Attitude” is that consumers should loosen up and make their own choice of an electricity provider.

It is most disturbing that non-elected city officials think they can exercise the power of political censorship, in this case to stop an advertiser making fun of an authoritarian leader.

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It undermines our democracy when officials think they have to protect Chinese leaders (in this case a former leader) from public criticism. But it has happened many times over the past few years.

In 1999, Police erected roadblocks in Auckland and Christchurch to prevent pro-Tibet protest banners being seen by the visiting Chinese president Jiang Zemin. In July 2002 Auckland International Airport removed a paid advertisement for Falun Gong (a spiritual group banned in China) after receiving a letter from the Chinese consulate. Falun Gong floats have also been banned from parades in Auckland and Wellington. Even our universities (supposedly havens for free speech) have been scared of upsetting their Chinese counterparts. In October 2009 Auckland university administrators cancelled an advertised meeting for the exiled leader of China’s Muslim people, Rebiya Kadeer. The meeting had to be shifted to another venue.

There needs to be a strong public reaction every time New Zealand officials think they can act as censors for the Chinese government.

1 COMMENT

  1. Keith – I found the ads silly and not very tasteful, but then again, we know, that little NZ Aotearoa is generally not that confident and outspoken anymore, on many topics.

    Trade is done and encouraged with many countries that have a dim view of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights, so China is just one of them.

    Indonesia is being courted, same as Saudi Arabia and some Gulf States that have a dim view of the rights of women and of free opinion. Many other countries can come to mind.

    We get little reporting on what happens in West Papua, and NZ news media like to go on about other (often trivial or highly emotive) topics, rather than focus on what else of more substance goes on in the world.

    So, yes, you have a point, but the issue is far greater than that.

    NZ governments and the public in general, fed by biased, commercially focused, and government friendly mainstream media, are too scared to rock the boat or ruffle feathers with the “Red Giant”.

    In future NZ will be dependent on traditional allies for security and protection, and as much as we may dislike the US, they are the only other power that may bother to look after a smallish country with a ridiculously unimportant military force.

    Juggling trade benefits with China, and traditional, again improved relations with the other “imperial” force at the other side of the Pacific, that is a tricky thing to do. Do not bite the hand that feeds you is the motto of this government, and of course also the business sector, which “employs” the average Kiwis.

    Not a pleasant, secure position, and offering little true independence indeed, that is what NZ faces.

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